‘I did not hear the word “paedophile” until the 1980s. Incredible as it may sound, I was absolutely convinced that I was the only person this was happening to in the world.’
Darlene grew up in Queensland. In the 1960s she was sent to a Catholic school on the Gold Coast. Her family life was loveless and dysfunctional; both her parents were heavy drinkers and violent towards each other.
‘My mother’s addictions made her open to any advantage, financial or otherwise, she could get from the priests by exploiting me’, Darlene said, She believes her mother was aware of much of the abuse she suffered at the hands of three Vincentian priests across seven years of her life.
Father John Hughes taught a religion class on Saturdays which Darlene attended. Hughes visited her family, along with other priests, and was considered a ‘family friend’. One weekend when Darlene was 11 years old, he kept her back after class.
‘I can still smell his oily hair and bad breath, his sweaty palms as he lifted my skirt and pulled down my underpants. He knelt down and touched the most private parts of my labia and other parts, staring intently at my young body, examining it closely. I begged and pleaded and cried for him to stop. I was in the church broom closet. He put his hand on his mouth and told me I liked it and we knew each other well enough to do this.
‘This began what was to be a regular happening over the next five to six years. It must have been more than a hundred times.’
Hughes also abused Darlene in her own home. She would walk home from school and spot his car parked outside nearly every afternoon. Hughes would be waiting with Darlene’s mother, who then left them alone. ‘I wept, I pleaded, to no avail.’ Darlene saw Hughes giving her mother money from time to time.
‘My life ended the first time he molested me. He told me no one would believe me if I told them what “we” did. He was a twisted pervert who ruined my early years and carved a grotesque black shadow over the rest of my life.’
From age 13 Darlene was also being brutally abused by Father David Lambert, a priest attached to the parish who lived in a flat at the back of the presbytery. First he took her on outings five or six times and she enjoyed these times away from her family. ‘Then he told me he wanted to show me his bedroom.
‘He got me into his room and told me to undress.’ Darlene refused. Lambert removed his own clothes, terrifying Darlene, and then pulled her clothes off. He forced her to her knees and made her perform oral sex.
‘I remember saying, “Please don’t, I want to go home”. I was sobbing quietly. I thought I was going to choke.’
When Darlene was 14, Lambert raped her in a motel room. He also sodomised her. Like Hughes, he became a regular visitor to Darlene’s home. She would often wake up in the dark to find Lambert’s hands on her body.
‘I felt degraded and to this day I feel degraded and worthless.
‘He liked to brag about how he covered his tracks and how no one would ever believe he’d had anything to do with me … No one would take the word of a local drunk’s daughter over a Roman Catholic priest. I felt trapped and alone.’
When she was 16 Darlene did try to disclose Lambert’s abuse to a young priest, Father Murphy, who helped with the youth group. He agreed to meet her alone and discuss it. When she arrived Murphy immediately suggested they have sex. Darlene refused, but he forced her down onto a table and raped her.
Darlene conceived a child from this rape, and Murphy gave her money to procure an abortion. She refused. Her mother and some priests then took her to a ‘labour home’ for unwed girls run by nuns, who put her to work in a commercial laundry ‘right up until my waters broke’. The baby was taken from her and adopted out.
Darlene has survived, but the impacts of her abuse have been severe and lifelong. She’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has at times considered suicide.
Darlene believes she cannot handle committed relationships because of the abuse. She has also struggled in her working life. ‘I can do things, but it always ends up in tears and I always feel it goes back to this business.’
She engaged with the Church in the early 90s through the Towards Healing process, and separately with the Vincentians later on. She hated the experience and considered the compensation ‘pitiful’ compared to the suffering she endured. The Vincentian adjudicator was a ‘horrible man’. When the final offer was made he told Darlene she had hours to accept the offer, saying, ‘If you don’t take it then you can take us to court, and we’ll see how far you get’.
Despite everything Darlene believes her religious faith has helped her cope. ‘Even though I have no faith in the Catholic Church … I still will not let them cheat me out of my belief in God and that there is a loving God who one day will call me to himself.’