Beth's story

Beth was sexually abused by Father Kevin, the priest at her local Catholic Church in Melbourne, over a five-year period from the age of 13.

Beth lived with her mother but remained connected with her father and would visit him after school. She told the Commissioner that the older priests at the Church shunned her father. They’d previously called him a drunk and told him to pay his rent. They’d also once denied him communion in front of the rest of the congregation. In spite of this, her father was a deeply religious man.

In the 1970s Kevin was in his early 20s and newly arrived in the parish. Kevin listened to her father’s stories and drank with him. Beth initially found it annoying that Kevin encouraged the drinking, but thought that this was his way of reaching her father.

Beth said that after a short time, Kevin started paying more attention to her. She was pleased because she trusted him and felt safe. He invited her to go for drives and to the cinema, and her father encouraged their outings. The sexual abuse started almost immediately. Beth said it was always under the guise of Kevin being concerned about her.

‘He showed me care and affection, and he was interested in me’, she said. ‘He gave me what I needed.’

Kevin swore Beth to secrecy. He’d get her to hide under the car dashboard as he sneaked her into the presbytery. At least one of the older priests noticed her coming in and out of Kevin’s room.

On drives, Beth said, they’d often drop into the homes of other adults. She said their attitude was to look the other way and pretend not to notice her, or to see her as one of Kevin’s ‘causes’. In one home, a woman rolled her eyes and said, ‘I think you’re a bit naughty, Kevin’. In others, it was a ‘wink and a nod’.

The sexual abuse continued through Beth’s teen years. She went from being a good student to someone who was rarely at school and failing in her subjects, and developed anorexia and bulimia.

Beth confided in one of the Good Samaritan nuns in the parish about the situation with Kevin, but told the nun not to tell anyone. Beth wasn’t sure what the nun had done or said, but soon after, Kevin became more secretive.

‘He’d say, “We can’t go to the presbytery now”, if someone was going to be there. Or he wouldn’t come by for a week or two, but then he’d suddenly turn up out of nowhere.’

One day when Beth was 17, Kevin came to the house and introduced a woman as his fiancée, saying he was leaving the Church. Beth was devastated. ‘We’d been in bed together the day before’, she said. 'I had believed we would be married.

‘Faith makes you vulnerable. My faith in the priest was my faith in God.’

Beth said Kevin shouldn’t have been allowed to be with her unsupervised.

The adults who saw what was going on should have taken action. Someone should have spoken to her and asked her questions. Beth said all those adults should have noticed something, and they should have done something to stop the abuse.

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