‘Priests were next to God and could not do any wrong.’
Catholicism was an integral part of Brigitte’s life. Looking back on her childhood, she can’t remember a weekend dinner that didn’t include a priest as a guest. Her family were devout Catholics and she attended a Catholic school on the grounds of the local parish.
In the late 1950s, when Brigitte was 12, her parents enrolled her in a Catholic boarding school in Victoria. She didn’t want to go and remembers getting into numerous arguments with her parents about it. That’s when Father Neville Jamison came to dinner.
Brigitte knew her mother only invited Jamison over to talk to her, to convince her to go to the boarding school. Jamison took her out onto the verandah, sat down on the bench and placed her on his knee. ‘Just going to have a chat’, he promised her, but Brigitte was frightened. His hands clawed her waist and gripped her tightly.
Jamison kissed her on the lips and put his hand up her dress. Brigitte tried to pull away but his grip was too strong. She was scared and didn’t know what to do. After Jamison had finished, he took Brigitte inside and acted as if nothing happened.
Brigitte was too scared to tell anyone, she knew her parents wouldn’t believe her because they respected priests too much. She was taught that children should be seen, not heard. It took her over 50 years to disclose the abuse.
In her 20s, Brigitte was also sexually abused by Father Bernard Sampson. She never wanted to have sexual relations with Sampson, but she felt obliged to do as he commanded. Brigitte was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. However, Sampson was outed in the early 2000s.
Years later Brigitte decided to report the abuse perpetrated by Jamison directly to the Church. She approached Bishop Martin, asking if he knew of a Father Jamison. She wanted to investigate everything about this priest.
‘They were most unhelpful, they wrote back to me and said, “No such priest existed” … So I persevered and I rang different orders and no, they couldn’t help … Then I wrote back to Bishop Martin and said that I would rather not get my lawyer involved. Suddenly, they remembered!”
Brigitte was told that Jamison was from another order of Brothers and she should take up her complaint with them. With the assistance of Towards Healing she complied, only to hear nothing for several months.
One year later, an investigation was conducted. Brigitte had a meeting with Sean Beverly, who was the provincial of the order Jamison had belonged to. She was shocked that Beverly completely denied the abuse and that he knew Jamison as well. ‘He never did it, he was an exemplary person. You must have been mistaken’, she was told.
Brigitte then asked Towards Healing to investigate her case further. She was forced to have a meeting with a representative, without support, and give her statement – they told her that if she didn’t comply her case would be dropped. She felt like a murderer being harassed by police.
‘That’s what I’ve incurred in the whole Church process: continual threats and blackmail.’
After four years, Brigitte finally got access to her casefile. She was disappointed that the Towards Healing report was inaccurate and contained psychological assessments of her. Brigitte then engaged with her lawyer.
It was organised for Brigitte and her lawyer to meet with Father Louis Tonkin, the new provincial of the order. She was disgusted that Tonkin refused point blank to accept that the abuse had happened. Brigitte was even accused of haggling for compensation, that she was greedy.
‘[Tonkin] said, “Look, if you were going to buy a new car, you’d haggle a bit, wouldn’t you?” … We’re not haggling, we are trying to come to a reasonable settlement.’
In the early 2010s, Brigitte settled for $20,000 and a written apology from the Church and the order of Brothers. This part of her life was filled with nothing but stress, which affected her husband and her family, as well as her mental health. She was happy to be done with it.
‘That’s what I wanted in the beginning, I just wanted to be recognised. I wanted an apology. Look, I would have gone away with no money at all. It’s not the money.’