When Ann was 10 years old, she and her sister would wait on the church steps for their mother to pick them up from the Catholic school next door. Often, a friendly Jesuit priest would come out and play with them and give them treats.
‘I loved him. Our mother was mentally unstable throughout our lives and that left us vulnerable. Sometimes she was an hour late collecting us, and this priest would cuddle and tickle us, give us biscuits and lollies. I think now this was part of his process.’
One afternoon, Ann said, he separated her from her sister, took her inside the church and showed her his side of the confessional box. Then he pulled off her underpants and attempted to rape her.
‘Afterwards, he kneeled me at the altar, put his hand on my head and said, “Bless this child for she has sinned”. I remember crying, huddled at the back of the Church where a teacher found me. I told her what had happened and she said I had to tell someone. I went across the road and told the senior parish priest who said he didn’t believe me. After that they told my mother, and they said I’d made it up. My mother believed them rather than me.’
Ann remembers thinking that it was strange that she never saw the priest again, particularly since they said she wasn’t telling the truth.
‘From what I could tell, he had disappeared. I later heard he was still allowed to perform baptisms and things, he just wasn’t allowed back at the school.’
Ann told the Commissioner she had blocked all memories of the abuse until a few years ago, but said it explained the drastic change in her academic ability. ‘Prior to the abuse I was getting good report cards, then I started turning in exams and they would be blank. I couldn’t understand why my sister could do them but I couldn’t, and I wonder why the teachers didn’t do anything about it.’
In the late 2000s, Ann found herself physically reacting to a television news story detailing the sexual abuse of a priest at the hands of another priest.
‘I just began to shake, and I didn’t really know why. Then after a school reunion I was talking to my sister and she mentioned the house across the road where the senior priest lived and I clearly remembered sitting and waiting to see him after I’d been abused, and I started shaking again.’
With counselling, further details of the abuse resurfaced. Certain there were other victims of the priest, Ann decided to tell the Church.
‘The Towards Healing process took nine months, and I don’t know how many times I had to repeat my story in that time. An ex-police officer and ex-teacher investigated my case, and they asked me to identify the priest, which I did. Then they came back and said I hadn’t been able to identify him. It was very upsetting. They kept getting details wrong in my draft statement and I felt they were trying to trick me into saying something different. They told me the priest who abused me was deceased by that time, and that they couldn’t prove that what I was saying was true or untrue.’
In the end, after signing a deed of release and confidentiality agreement, Ann accepted a verbal apology, $40,000 and 10 sessions of counselling. She feels that she’s slowly getting a little better, but it’s been very hard for her husband and children to cope with her extreme distress.
‘I still feel physical pain. The apology was good, but on reflection it was all part of covering it up. I asked where the priest came from and they said, “Oh, they all came from Ireland back then”. I said “No, he didn’t come from Ireland”, and then they said he came from another Australian city. I just know that priest was moved to our area because he’d abused someone else. I know I wasn’t the first or last that he did this to, there’s no way. That pattern has to change.’