Catherine was 11 years old when she was sexually abused by Martin at her regional New South Wales Anglican church. It was the mid-1970s and the priest had invited her and her cousin to become altar servers, asking them to attend the church house for a robe fitting.
When Catherine got there she was expecting to see her cousin, but nobody else was around. Martin took her into his bedroom and told her to change out of her school uniform. She did not feel comfortable about this, but did as she was told.
‘It progressed to me being taken into the vestry office where Father Martin proceeded to measure me naked with a tape measure and ruler including around my chest and between my legs.’ This ‘measuring’ lasted for around half an hour. She did not feel able to question him even though she was scared, because he was a priest.
Catherine was doing confirmation classes with Martin too, and after he finished measuring her they went to the class together.
‘At the end of class he said “I hope I didn't frighten you earlier this afternoon”. I said “no”, feeling totally scared and confused by the whole situation, and wondering what he would do if I told the truth and said “yes”.’
For the rest of that year she kept away from the priest. ‘I refused to go to church after this incident which my parents put down to my age. I was fortunate not to have Father Martin as a scripture teacher at school but I had to hide from him as he strutted across the open playground back to church by hiding behind my school case whilst eating lunch. I was avoiding any contact with him at all cost.’
Catherine never told her parents what the priest had done to her. She went back to church after he left, but ‘I was totally disruptive’.
She remembers being very socially awkward and distrustful of men and boys after the abuse, until she met her husband when she was 18. He asked her out on a date and she started shaking – she told him she was just cold, but really she felt terrified. Then she made a decision ‘to not let that [the abuse] define me, why not go out on a date? And it was really hard to do that’.
After a few dates she told him about the abuse. He was very supportive, ‘and said no, he wasn’t going to hurt me … He was very understanding’. They were married within a year, and soon had a family.
By the early 1990s Catherine had moved interstate, and approached her local church to report that Martin was a problem. A lady she spoke to chased up the priest’s address, and advised her to write to him. She was very disappointed by this response, as she assumed they would immediately take action given the potential risk he posed to other children.
In the 2000s she contacted another church minister and told him of the abuse. He commented, ‘What about the women who make up these stories and the poor ministers?’, and did not offer any support.
A few weeks after this she was in contact with police about an unrelated matter. During the course of this investigation police saw references to Martin in Catherine’s diary, and asked if she wanted to pursue any investigation against him. She said no, as she did not have the support of the Church.
Over the coming years she learned through the media that Martin had been charged and convicted for child sexual offences, and had received a custodial sentence. ‘I was pleased he was finally going to jail for eight years but was wondering what happens when he gets out? I am still wondering.’
She told the Commissioner ‘it would be nice to sort of have some information and access on your offender and just sort of know where they’re at and what they’re doing, when they pass away. Just to sort of know where they are’.
Catherine has never engaged in any counselling or other kinds of support. ‘No, no. I guess I’ve just been happy that I’ve got the kids, and I’ve been able to look after them and made sure that they’re safe … I’ve not sort of really worried so much just about myself.’ She wonders what Martin’s own wife and children feel about what he did, or whether they ‘have their heads buried in the sand’ about his offending.
She has still not officially reported the abuse she experienced to police, but is considering seeking legal advice regarding both criminal and civil actions. At this stage, she thinks an apology from the Church ‘would help, if they acknowledge that it happened’.