‘I think he had a lot of issues of his own. He was our religious education teacher … his lessons used to alternate between St Thomas Aquinas and the books he’d written and the philosophy he had. Or he’d talk about sex.’
Cecily grew up in regional Queensland in the 1970s in a ‘very Catholic home’. It was a large family. Cecily was sexually abused by two of her brothers for many years.
‘I told my father at the time and he never believed me.
‘I told my local priest, as well, about my brothers and he didn’t believe me either. So I thought, “What’s the point of saying anything?” when it happened again, because nobody believed me the first time. So why would I bother?’
Cecily was sent to a local Catholic college. When she was about 17 years old she was groped on a number of occasions by one of the teachers, Father Kevin Freeman. ‘He would always take me somewhere and turn off the lights and then touch my breast or whatever, and I’d be in this position where I couldn’t get out and you felt too scared to tell anybody about it.
‘Basically a constant abuse of power.’
Freeman threatened her, saying, ‘if I took it further he would do all sorts of things to me. He kept saying I have no voice, because I was a child and he was the priest, and he had all the power and no one would believe’.
Already damaged after having been sexually assaulted by her brothers, Cecily experienced a breakdown after she finished school. ‘It affects people’s self-esteem, self-worth. All those sorts of things. I know that these are things you can’t really measure, but so many people I know that have been through abuse have suffered mental illness because of it.’
The abuse has significantly impacted Cecily’s whole life. She has felt suicidal, experienced nightmares, mood instability and depression, and has been hospitalised several times. She continues to take anti-psychotic medications and mood stabilising drugs and see a psychiatrist regularly. She is strongly supported by her husband. She has also set up a mental health support group in her area.
Cecily has taken responsibility for her health. ‘I don’t think it’s just about medication. It’s a complete holistic approach. To me it’s medication, it’s self-esteem, wellness, going for walks, having people I can go and talk to.’
Cecily’s faith has been challenged by her experiences. Watching the response of the Catholic Church to child abuse revelations in recent years has left her struggling.
‘I’ll never feel the same way about the Church again. I’ve actually thought about changing my religion, and that says a hell of a lot; I’ve actually got a theology degree in my own Church, from a Catholic university.’
Cecily has recently stopped going to mass altogether. She strongly supports the work of the Royal Commission in bearing witness to her story and countless others. She is looking for radical change and plans to write to the Pope.
‘They should find it in themselves to say, “We are a Church that has failed people”. That’s what we need to hear as Catholics. We need to have the Pope come out and say, “We ask your forgiveness”.
‘We need radical change. We need married priests, we need women in the Church, we need a Church that asks for forgiveness and realises that they have damaged thousands and thousands of youth.
‘There are days when I think I’ll become an atheist, and I was raised in a good Catholic home. But where do you go?’