‘I get scared that the priests, if they knew that I was talking to anyone, that they'd contact Dad or my family and get them to turn against me.’
Ariadne’s parents were actively involved in the Catholic Church in their regional Victorian town in the 1970s and 80s. Ariadne and her siblings sang in the choir and assisted with the children’s liturgy. The local priests were regular visitors to their home.
‘Mum was a difficult character by nature, but when the priests were there she was always very happy and there was always affection and lots of food, lots of wine’, Ariadne told the Commissioner. ‘It was a very happy occasion to have priests over and it was very regular.’
One of the priests, Father John McCarthy, targeted Ariadne from the age of 12. Her first memory of sexual abuse starts with a game of hide and seek after church. ‘He had his big garment on and he said, "Hide under this now", and so I hid under his cloak and he had … to my knowledge, he had an erection pushing up against himself and that was in the church yard … He was probably talking to my mum and dad.’
McCarthy visited Ariadne at home when she was recovering from an operation. ‘He came in to see how I was feeling and he said he would help me feel better.’ The priest groped her and digitally penetrated her. The abuse continued for about three years. There was even an incident in a back room of a bishop’s residence when her family was there for a visit. ‘It was a terracotta-coloured room and it was – it had very grand ceilings and beautiful, ornate – I remember looking up and looking at the plaster wall and McCarthy was groping me.’
Ariadne did not tell anyone about the abuse for 30 years, until her approach to the Royal Commission. She felt her family was far too immersed in the Church for them to believe her, and she was scared of losing support, especially that of her parents.
‘Their sense of identity was that they were good friends with priests. I can remember McCarthy saying to me, when he visited me [in hospital], that I was a troubled child and I just … I thought it was me. I thought I was, I was the bad one.’
The abuse has had a profound impact on Ariadne. As a teenager she had a breakdown – she developed obsessive-compulsive behaviours, psychosomatic pain in her lower back and began to strike herself in the head with her fists. She felt isolated from the other girls at her school because of the secrets she carried, and wasn’t interested in relationships with boys.
‘I think my mental health was still very fragile. I wasn't on medication. My mum wouldn't allow me to go on any medication, but in hindsight now I believe I needed something for anxiety [and] depression.
‘I started to become promiscuous and drink a lot, binge drinking. Just some behaviour I look back on now and I'm quite … I feel like that I just don't know that person.’
Ariadne believes the Catholic Church has been in denial about child abusers within the clergy. She recalls a visit from another family friend, Father James Lockhart, in the early 90s.
‘He was talking about Broken Rites, which is an organisation set up to support victims of abuse. He was talking about them – he said, "All they're after is money from the Church, nothing even happened. They're just lying to get money”.’
Lockhart went on to belittle an acquaintance of the family who was making trouble for the Church over abuse he’d suffered and demanded Ariadne’s parents not have the man in their house ever again. They agreed.
After a divorce later in life Ariadne had another breakdown. ‘I started self-harming, but I'm now on medication for anxiety and depression and I'm feeling that's really helped a great deal.’ She’s also receiving specialised sexual abuse counselling.
‘I'm angry at my mum and dad. I'm angry that the bedroom wasn't so far away from where they were sitting at the kitchen table and they let McCarthy into my room. I'm so full of hatred towards my mother.’