Frances has a very strong faith, and even as a teenager she was able to recognise that when Reverend Hopkins sexually molested her it was nothing to do with God.
She was 16 at the time, and had turned to Hopkins as she struggled with an unhappy home life. Her family was closely involved in the Anglican Church in the small Victorian town where he ministered and he was the only person she felt able to talk to.
He offered to pray for her, and then fondled her as he did so. Afterwards, she was confused and thought perhaps she was to blame. In the week that followed she contemplated self-harm and suicide. When she visited him again, to tell him about her worsening mental health, he again suggested prayer and once more took the opportunity to sexually assault her.
Frances felt shattered, and decided to leave the church for one in another parish.
‘I did know this was not God, that this was him. … I still wanted to attend church, but I didn’t want to attend where he was.’
Frances had been an acolyte at the church and a server, and had taught Sunday school there and run youth groups. ‘I did everything that one could do as an involved young person’, she said. Leaving in such circumstances created a rupture in her life that she has never really recovered from, she told the Commissioner.
‘One of the things that strikes me over time is the impact that this has had on my sense of belonging in the world. Before this happened I felt I belonged in church. Our family had always been there, my best girlfriend was there, we’d grown up in Sunday school and we were very close.’
She didn’t feel she belonged at the church she went to next, nor at many others she has been to since. She married at 19 – ‘Because I needed to get away and find a place where I belonged’, she said.
Her religious conviction has remained very strong over the years, and she has undertaken theological studies, been a student minister and given guest sermons. But her faith in the leadership of the Church has been shaken, as she has sought acknowledgement of the trauma she suffered and the lasting damage it caused. In particular, she wanted the Church to undertake an investigation of Hopkins and, if necessary, restrict his access to children.
She first made a formal complaint about Hopkins in the early 1990s, when she was in her late 20s. A mediator was appointed and met with Frances and Hopkins together. At this meeting Hopkins conceded he had touched Frances inappropriately but – coached by lawyers, Frances believed – insisted he had no sexual intention towards her.
One on one meetings with the Archbishop followed. He heard Hopkins’ account of events, and then Frances's. At the end of the process he told her it was clear she genuinely believed she had been abused by Hopkins, but Hopkins was equally sincere in his conviction that this hadn’t happened. The Archbishop reached no other conclusion, but offered Frances access to counselling.
‘I felt deeply let down’, she said.
About 10 years later, allegations surfaced about then Governor-General Peter Hollingworth’s failure to deal with child sex abuse charges during his time as Archbishop of Brisbane. These were a new reminder to Frances of the Church’s inaction in response to her complaint about Hopkins. She decided to seek a legal solution.
On advice from her lawyer, she informed the Church that she planned to report Hopkins to police. The Church responded with an offer: $25,000 in compensation, and action to restrict Hopkins’ activities.
‘They took his permission to officiate away from him’, Frances explained. ‘That doesn’t mean he’s no longer a priest. He’s still a priest but he’s a priest who doesn’t have permission of officiate and do priestly duties. Which I guess is better than the alternative.’ But, she pointed out, people still wouldn’t know what he’d done. ‘People don’t see him differently. He hasn’t changed. He still thinks he’s got the right to walk in and say “Here I am, I belong here”.’
Frances is still waiting for the investigation she wanted, and for acknowledgment that her abuse should never have occurred. She expects it will be a long wait. She believes the Church’s resistance to open itself for such examination rests not only in the leadership but in the whole Church community.
‘I think it’s worth noting that the unwillingness to deal with these things, I don’t know if it starts at the top or the bottom but it goes all the way through. It’s in the congregation, you know’, she said.
She also believes there is a particular failure to help people who have suffered abuse but want to remain in the Church. ‘They’ve wanted to take an oppositional stance to abuse survivors, and expect them to leave the Church. And when they’re still there, there’s no idea what to say to them or do with them, except ignore them and push them aside.’