‘I thought the Church was going to look after me. I was brought up by a devout Catholic mother … [Aunts] in the convent, and I was involved with all the nuns in the church and I thought because of that reason they were going to look after me and it’s heartbreaking to feel what they’re doing to me.’
In the early 1960s, Ann was a 10-year-old attending the local Catholic primary school in a regional New South Wales town. She was sexually abused by the priest twice. After the first occasion, Ann told the nun who was in charge of the school.
‘I went to the head nun … I can still see myself standing there, looking up at this nun that I thought loved me and I loved her. And I said to her that, “Father Simon made me touch his wee wee” …
‘She swung around and she grabbed me and she lifted me up off the ground and she dragged me into the office and she bashed the daylights out of me and told me that I was evil … [that] the devil was in my body.
‘I was a little girl. I couldn’t believe it.’
The nun kept on physically abusing Ann for years after this.
Ann didn’t tell anyone else about her abuse then or after the second incident, which occurred in the cathedral. The priest forced Ann to masturbate his penis and then he ejaculated on her. He attempted to coerce Ann a third time but she threatened that she would tell her father.
‘He was there [in the cathedral] … I looked at him and I remembered the way my father spoke and I said … “Fuck off, I’m going home to tell my father” … and I left. I ran … but he never approached me again … It was the way I said it. I spoke in the same terrible manner that my father spoke and I never got over speaking like that in the cathedral.’
She didn’t tell her father though.
‘I was trying to survive. I was one of [many] children … We were struggling. We had no money. Mum kept blasted rosary beads in her hand all day. We were living a terrible life.’
It wasn’t until 2001 that Ann confided in another priest, telling him about her abuse and seeking contact details for the Catholic Church’s redress scheme, Towards Healing.
‘”I need the Towards Healing program phone number”, I said. “Father Simon abused me” … [The priest] lied to me. He said, “Simon! I didn’t know he was like that”, when later on, five years later, I found out that he was the priest they sent … to take the keys of the presbytery off Father Simon and throw him out of the presbytery.’
In 2002, Ann had a meeting with representatives from Towards Healing and her local bishop. Ann has been estranged from the Catholic Church ever since.
‘The Towards Healing program did nothing for me. They did nothing … When I got to the Bishop … he took me into this great big boardroom with every goddamned bishop there’s ever been in [the town], massive big coloured photos hovering over the table.’
Ann was intimidated and unsupported. She found the whole experience traumatic. Her abuser was still alive at the time and the bishop suggested that Ann could go to the police. He didn’t push this as an avenue for Ann to follow up. The Church didn’t report her abuser to the police either.
A short time later, Ann did go to the local police but they weren’t interested in following up her allegations.
‘He was saying things to me like, “Was there witnesses?”, “Look, there’s really no evidence”, [and] “It’s such a long time ago”. He wasn’t interested and I was getting more and more upset.’
She was disheartened and never went back. Her abuser died a few years later.
‘The Church knew … but they still protected him.’
Ann has received some compensation from the Catholic Church but feels that the Church hierarchy are unhelpful and obstructive.
‘The Church’s name is being thrown around like wet cow shit and they’re [senior clergy] still … trying to stop us … they’ve got to stop acting like this … [the bishop] is saying that he is supporting victims and survivors – he’s not! He’s not helping me.’
She also feels the loss of her religious community deeply.
‘It was never about goddamned money. All I wanted to do was go back to mass in me older years. I should be able to walk down the road … and go to mass and have the sacraments. That’s all I wanted … I’m not going back now. I’ve written my resignation to the Pope.’
She also believes that changes need to occur in the way that priests work with children.
‘A lot of stuff happened inside the confessional. I think the confessional should be an open thing and that children should not be allowed to go in the door and the door shut with a priest inside. I think that’s got to stop. That’s got to stop … And, of course, priests aren’t allowed to be on their own at any time with a child … it’s got to stop.’
Ann has been public about the abuse she experienced, tackling the local church hierarchy in the media, and has been able to support other survivors who have spoken out.
‘I just hope the flow of me going in the media has helped people, that’s all I hope.’