Dinah came to the Royal Commission because of her concerns about a priest from her orthodox Christian Church, who has been reinstated and allowed to return to Dinah’s community in Australia, after having been defrocked in the early 2000s. ‘I’ve been watching … and he’s … provided services, doing masses … and he did a wedding … this year.’
Dinah told the Commissioner that she is in contact with two girls who were sexually abused by the priest, and she is aware of four or five other victims, all of whom were under 18 when the abuse occurred. ‘It was initially investigated … They acted quickly and they removed him from Australia and they promised he was never … we understood … that he was defrocked, but in fact, he wasn’t.’ Instead, he was demoted and sent to Europe.
‘The reality is, they removed him to protect the Church from any legal action because people were angry, so he was removed and as far as we were concerned, the problem was resolved. He’s gone. He’s no longer a priest. And technically speaking, he wasn’t … [But] he still has a position of authority and people can’t see any difference in his dress. The issue is … his formal attire is a problem because people trust that very blindly.’
Dinah told the Commissioner that in her Church, priests are seen as ‘very spiritual. They’re not even people, they’re angels on earth. And the realisation that they are just people, they make mistakes …’
Eve, one of the two women Dinah has been supporting, was 10 when the abuse started. ‘She was at first willing to come to the Commission, but then she backed off because … her name, now as an adult, may not be kept confidential’, if the priest was charged by the police, and the case went to court.
When Eve was being abused, she ‘told her family. She told her mother. Her mother brushed it off and told her she was ridiculous. So they didn’t believe her and didn’t support her. The abuse continued till she was 16. And … indications from the way she was talking, it was with her genitalia and it was without any clothes … And it could have been more than that but I don’t think she was prepared to … She’s still not ready to deal with it’.
Eve has seen a counsellor but ‘just from the way she speaks, she hasn’t dealt with it and [the priest is] a family friend and some of the people that have supported him to come back, she knows them, but they don’t know about her’.
Dinah told the Commissioner, ‘Our community can be very nasty. They are naively protecting him because he’s a priest’. She fears that ‘there’ll be this thing about, “How could you do this to the Church? How could you do this to the … community, that’s known as educated and hasn’t had a history of these things?”’ Many members of the Church fear being ostracised in their community if they speak out against the Church and its clergy. ‘People have the need to be accepted and there’s nowhere else for them to be accepted and particularly those who don’t speak English. So they have no other choice, really.’
In her professional life, Dinah has spoken to many older women who were abused as children, but they would ‘never tell anyone, because “no one would believe me”’.
Dinah doesn’t think that the Church recognises sexual abuse as being a crime. ‘It’s a sin. And you confess and God forgives you … Generally speaking, it’s a male world for them and they all do it and they all have confession and it’s all okay.’
Because the Church leadership is based overseas, Dinah believes that ‘the Church needs to continue to be on the radar and there needs to be a learning curve … they need to be put through a process where they have no choice but to recognise the law, and to recognise the vulnerability of children and their responsibility to protect them’.
Dinah told the Commissioner, ‘When you stand before the Church or its hierarchy, they are God, they are not questioned by anyone. They’re not accountable to anyone. Not for the money. Not for the service. Not for what they do. The damage they do in confession and the million other things and in marriages, you know. They’re not accountable. They’re not accountable to anybody’.
Dinah is very concerned about the re-appearance of this priest. ‘I am very passionate about it and I’m not letting it go … I’m watching and waiting, because it will happen again. He will strike another child. It’s not going to disappear. It’s not as they say, just a time of life and you know, he’s over it now … He’s got a history.’
A Church official told Dinah that ‘even if he did something to these girls’ he thinks that the priest has been punished enough. However, Dinah believes that ‘the girls have suffered more than him, and are still suffering’.