While Deidre was in mediation with the Catholic Church, Bishop Frankston turned to her and said ‘I never realised’. Deidre replied, ‘It’s because you didn’t listen. I’ve been to see you three times and you didn’t listen’.
The bishop had previously ‘tried to disprove that anything happened’. He had challenged Deidre on the date she claimed the parish priest, Father Johnson, had sexually abused her teenage son, Andrew.
Deidre doesn’t know the exact date of the abuse, but she remembers the following morning, in the 1990s, very, very well. She can remember the priest’s car as it pulled up to drop Andrew off after a sleepover. She can remember the priest reeked of alcohol. She can remember the anger in her son that day, the tears on his face and his refusal to talk. ‘That was just the beginning of his life spiralling out of control.’
About five years after the abuse, Andrew disclosed to both his parents. ‘When he told me, he just said, “If you tell anyone I’ll kill myself”. And so that was really difficult for me because I was torn between not wanting my son to take his life but also wanting to approach the Catholic Church. And get some justice.’
Andrew disclosed to his father, Ross. ‘Andrew was drugged. Andrew was raped. Drugged till almost unconscious the day he was raped. He told me that.’ Distressed and frustrated, Ross recalled his son’s mindset at the time. ‘I begged him, “Come on, we’ll get this bastard and put him away”. And he just couldn’t. He says, “I can’t, Dad” … [That priest] had ripped the soul out of him.’
Deidre said, although Andrew completed school, he was ‘in and out of jobs and in and out of psych hospitals’. In his early 20s Andrew took his own life.
‘I went to the church. I wasn’t angry. I was just so upset. I was collapsing. I was crying.’ The current parish priest, Father Hughes, wasn’t there but there was a nun, who said Deidre ‘wasn’t coping’ so offered to arrange counselling. ‘Bloody counselling’, Deidre scoffed, as she recalled the encounter. She ended up going to one or two sessions. She also reported the sexual abuse to police.
Soon after Deidre went to the church, Father Hughes came to her home and apologised for the abuse of her son. He said he never realised Father Johnson was a sex offender. However, Deidre has more recently learned that Hughes knew that Johnson was in fact a multiple sex offender, and was part of the cover-up.
In a statement provided to the Commission, Deidre describes some of the impacts the sexual abuse had on her son and family.
‘After the abuse, he [Andrew] felt worthless, lacked motivation, and had low self-esteem with bouts of depression …
‘Andrew’s tragic journey following the sexual abuse started with escalating antisocial behaviours. Our family became fractured due to Andrew’s journey of self-destruction, and my marriage with Ross broke down …
‘I started gambling and drinking alcohol. I threw myself into my work because I didn’t want to think about what happened ... I have had feelings of tremendous guilt that I couldn’t protect my son.’
Some years after Father Hughes’s apology, Deidre went to the local diocese and met with Bishop Walsh. ‘That was just an absolute goddam waste of time’. She visited him again and asked for counselling with a counsellor of her choice. He agreed and the Church paid for 15 sessions.
Meanwhile a police investigation was underway into Andrew’s abuser in relation to the sexual abuse of other boys. Johnson was later convicted of some of these offences.
Deidre received a letter from Bishop Walsh with an offer to pay for Andrew’s funeral as a ‘matter of pastoral concern’. The letter included an apology for Johnson’s abuse. Deidre received the payment and met with Walsh again, asking for more counselling sessions. She also wanted to set up a memorial for Andrew. Walsh denied Deidre of both, saying the Church had no money.
‘So I walked out of that room and I just couldn’t believe that’s exactly what the Church was like. That they put this brick wall up. They have no empathy.’
However, two years later, Deidre’s counsellor contacted the diocese, which did approve some further sessions.
In more recent years, Deidre met with the new bishop of the diocese, Bishop Frankston. Again, she met with him three times. Again, she was given the run-around. He said, ‘I can’t help you with any of this’. He suggested she go to Towards Healing, which she rejected. He suggested she seek victims compensation. She pointed out that that wasn’t possible, as Andrew’s case was never investigated by the police.
‘I thought I’m going to have to up the ante here, and I said, “Oh, okay then, if you’re not going to help me here I’m just going to keep coming back, every week, until you listen to what I’m saying”.’
They agreed on mediation.
Mediation was successful and that was when Frankston said to Deidre that he hadn’t realised the seriousness of her situation. When he asked how the Church could help her heal, Deidre laid out her compensation demands.
‘It’s very therapeutic to be able to write stuff down, so I’d like to write a book. So I’d like six months off work to write a book. I definitely need counselling. The way I’m feeling now, it might be for 10 years … I struggle with depression and anxiety and I said maybe do some tai chi. I believe that would help. And he said “Yes”. So that probably all came to about $120,000.’
It was all agreed. Deidre was told that the Church’s solicitors would follow up. ‘I walked away from there feeling okay. I thought “I can now get my life back. I’m going to be okay”.’
Later, however, Deidre’s lawyers told her the Church was playing ‘hard ball’ and the compensation was in doubt. ‘Every legal person I’ve spoken to has said, “You don’t trust the Catholic Church. At all. Not at all”. And I’m finding that to be so.’
After not hearing from the Church’s lawyers Deidre felt she had no option but to ‘go down the civil path’.
She was required to go for psychiatric assessments. ‘They’ve put it back to me … It’s like we’re the guilty ones all the way. Like, I’m doing all the hard yards still … Then we have to have mediation again. This is how it works.’ Deidre is frustrated at being held in ‘total control’ of this ‘blinking system’ and how costly it all is, when the Church could have just given her the agreed amount.
‘What do I do? Do I walk away? I can’t walk away because I’m not healed. I’m not healed. Not at all … Maybe never be, but it’s got to be better than what it is now.’
The diocese offered Deidre $40,000 in compensation which she has rejected as that wouldn’t even cover counselling costs. Her claim is still unresolved.
As Deidre said in her written statement, ‘I have lost my faith, which was historically a huge part of my life. I have also lost my trust in the Church because I felt that it protected the offender, but did nothing to protect the victims. I still hold that view today’.
Ross spoke passionately about his ex-wife’s loss of faith. ‘It cut her in half. She needed it to be a Catholic. She needed to go to church – for strength. And when we found out what happened to Andrew. Zzzt! She’s cut off at the guts!’