Ella grew up with very loving parents who ‘adored each other and kept having those Catholic children’.
Her father ran a business in their regional Victorian town and in the late 1950s organised a room for visiting missionary priest, Father Moretti, to gather the townspeople and tell them about a trip he’d made to the Vatican.
The visit was ‘big time’, Ella said, and during the six months or so Moretti spent in town he befriended Ella’s parents and ‘came every night for dinner’. He also took to visiting then eight-year-old Ella at school and he’d often drive her home. On the occasions he took Ella in the car, Moretti would sexually abuse her.
Ella said ‘the drives became more frequent and he touched me more and more’. In the beginning she was happy to go with him, but ‘the more he touched me the more I dreaded him taking me out’.
Ella realised that Moretti wouldn’t take her if her siblings were present so she started bringing her younger brother into her classroom in the afternoon, telling the nun who was teacher that she’d been told to do so by her mother.
Nevertheless, Moretti found opportunities to be alone with Ella. One day he took her to bushland out of town ‘and inserted his finger or fingers or something else into my vagina and it really hurt’.
Ella started to cry and said she was going to tell her father, and Moretti became angry. ‘I was very frightened by this,’ Ella said. ‘I knew he was angry but don’t remember the specific words other than, “Don’t tell anybody”.’
Moretti had previously told Ella that she ‘was special and what he was doing to me was our secret and that he loved me and that God loved me’.
When he dropped her home it was dark and Ella’s parents were waiting out the front of the house. Ella told them the priest had ‘hurt me and touched my bottom’. Her mother gave her a bath, but didn’t ask any questions.
‘[She] just said, “Don’t tell anybody what happened here today”. And so they kept me in bed for a couple of days.’
A few days later Father Moretti turned up at the house and Ella overheard her father say to him, ‘If you weren’t a priest, I’d kill you’. Her father also said that he’d rung the bishop and that Moretti ‘better get out of here before I do kill you’.
Ella didn’t see the priest again and doesn’t know where he went. The abuse was ‘never discussed ever again. Never a word spoken’.
In the mid-2000s, a counsellor Ella was seeing in relation to problems in her marriage asked her to do a timeline of her life.
‘I got to about seven and this bloke popped up and I just fell in a big heap. I couldn’t, I mean it was horrendous, and I’d just stuffed it away because when it happened my parents said, “You never tell one soul what happened”.’
Before this, Ella ‘never realised’ the effect of the abuse. She described feeling different to her brothers and sisters who were ‘stable, normal, everyday human beings’.
‘I never felt good or something, and I could never explain it to anybody. And then I ended up, I tried to commit suicide at 19. My family couldn’t work out why, what’s gone wrong, you know. I had a nervous breakdown … had shock treatment … I just thought I’d be doing everyone a great favour not being here.’
In the early 2010s, Ella reported the abuse to Victoria Police and was interviewed by ‘a fantastic policewoman’.
Moretti was then living interstate. He was interviewed by police and admitted the abuse up until it was time to record his statement when he then said he ‘couldn’t remember’ anything.
Similarly, the leader of his order spoke to Moretti who told him he was ‘really sorry’ that he’d abused Ella, but that he’d ‘made my peace with God’. The leader then spoke to police, but Moretti, when questioned again, said, ‘No, I must have been confused’.
Ella was impressed that the leader had reported one of the priests in his order and ‘was prepared to make a statement’. In the end Moretti’s denials and advanced age prevented the case being pursued.
Despite knowing she was ‘a tiny little girl’ and wasn’t to blame for the abuse, Ella still sometimes wondered, ‘How could you let someone do that to you?’
‘It’s a shocker. It’s bad. And I’ve told myself, but I mean the reason I went to the police was I thought, I have to force my way through this and go through the right paths to do all the right things so it doesn’t happen to anybody else.’
The Royal Commission had been good, not only for her, Ella said, ‘but for those people that were abused for years and years and years’.
She thought there should be people going into schools to talk to children and tell them there was someone who would listen.
‘That’s probably the best advice, because I’ve asked my granddaughter and no one’s ever gone in her school except the odd policeman. Now, if you’re six and someone’s abusing you, you don’t have access to a policeman you know, do you? So if there was somebody always in the school they could go to, because that is a place they’re at all the time, and if that’s reinforced all the time that there is somebody they can talk to.
‘And you couldn’t tell them enough, you know what I mean? Because they’ll forget. Because when you’re little and you’ve got nowhere to run, it’s terrifying you know, because you are little and nobody hears you really.’