‘My father cried when retelling his story to me and it’s an image that still haunts me. I need his story to be heard so that I might find some place to rest it and bring peace to the past.’
Becky and her sister Gretel brought their father’s story to the Royal Commission.
Their dad, Brian, has died. He was part of a large family living in a country town in western Victoria in the 1960s. Becky described her father’s family as ‘more Catholic than the Catholics’, and said they were often visited by the parish priest Father Keith Douglas. Douglas would stay overnight, sleeping in the boys’ quarters.
Douglas took an extra interest in Brian when he became an altar boy. Brian was pleased with the adult attention, and the family felt flattered that the priest was putting in extra time with them.
One Sunday afternoon Douglas offered to take Brian to the beach. ‘To fully understand the betrayal of this day you have to understand that my father loved the beach. He loved to go swimming and he loved fishing. It was rare that he or his family were able to go.’
Douglas took 13-year-old Brian into the sand dunes and violently sodomised him. Frightened and confused, Brian was then ordered into the car. On the drive home Father Douglas stopped and made Brian wait 20 minutes while he went into a local presbytery.
‘My father told me he sat crying uncontrollably in the car.’
When he returned to the car, Douglas said that he had just confessed to another priest and ‘told of the sin they had committed together’. Brian was dropped home and said nothing of the abuse.
Brian was then sent to a Catholic boarding school for the next few years. He ran way to his family home many times, only to be sent back to the school. One day, Brian received a letter from his mother, cheerfully telling him how Father Douglas was taking an interest in Brian’s two younger brothers. ‘“It’s like he’s never known they’ve existed up to this point, but now he’s become very fond of them”’, Gretel quotes from the letter. ‘I can think of my father reading that at school and that’s probably the point he turned up at home.’
Brian confronted his mother and revealed that he had been abused by Douglas about two years earlier. The family are now unsure if his mother acted on the knowledge.
Douglas continued to have contact with the family. Some of Brian’s brothers were abused by the priest, as well as his cousins. The sisters believe their grandmother would have been too fearful of ostracism by the Church to take a complaint, such was the Church’s hold on the family.
Becky and Gretel believe their father fantasised that she had gone to the Church with his story, but the evidence seems to point the other way.
Brian became extremely distrustful of authority, and had trouble at school. As he became an adult, his problems multiplied. He began taking drugs and drank heavily, and his marriage was marred by violence towards his wife and children. Brian had trouble feeling and expressing love.
‘A child interrupted by abuse reverberates through generations and I still feel its impact upon myself and our family. I still feel outrage and anger’, Becky explains. ‘We will never know what type of person our father would’ve been if his childhood had not been so abruptly changed.’
Douglas died in the late 1970s. During his lifetime, he escaped facing any consequence for his abuse of Brian and his family. ‘Mostly I hold the institution of the Catholic Church responsible’, says Becky. ‘They afforded not only protection to paedophiles, but they enabled them to gain access to generations of victims and in some instances form networks to facilitate this. Protected by the shield of their cloth they raped and abused children and no one would or could protect these children. Families held these abusers up as people to be admired and respected.’
‘The hold of the Church is not something to be disregarded. They get them from a very young age and they indoctrinate. The priest is placed up there on a [pedestal], “I can do no wrong”, and if the priest shows you attention then you’re the lucky one.’
Thirty years after their father’s ordeal, in the 90s, Becky and Gretel were also educated at a Catholic school. They believe little had changed by then. A Brother at their school was well known for his abuse of the boys. ‘If they were out on the cricket field he’d adjust their box, like to protect the genital area.’ That teacher continued in the job for years, even after being investigated by police. ‘He was sent to jail. That was the only thing that put him out of the classroom.’
The two sisters believe that children need more information at a younger age. ‘We were all talking about it. All the kids knew about it … But there’s no avenue for them to go anywhere. There’s no education.’ Becky wants young children to know when ‘this is not okay’. Children need a clear pathway so that incidents of abuse are reported to someone who will act.
Becky and Gretel are also deeply concerned about the Catholic Church in the developing world. ‘Everything that is happening here is going to come out in South America. There’s nothing in place. They do not care who you are or where you come from. They’ll give you access to children straight away.’