Grace’s parents had decided they didn’t want to have children. But Grace was born in Melbourne following a long hot summer after the Second World War ‘because’, she laughed, ‘no one watched what they were doing in the summer’.
Life was all right for the first 10 years of her life but emotionally ‘it was a very, very cold house’. Even though Grace had all the material things she could ever want, she wasn’t getting the affection and affirmation she craved. She realised when she was much older that neither parent ever said, ‘you’re great, you’re loved, you’re anything’. She did what she was told, however, and did very well at school.
In her early teens she questioned some of her parents’ beliefs, including their atheism. When the school choir sang at a local church, the priest told the congregation that God loved them. Grace was surprised. ‘I’d never even heard of God and this was someone who loved me.' Soon after that, she was welcomed into the choir of the local Anglican church and became very involved in church activities from the age of 13.
Not long after Father Timothy Anderson became the new parish priest, Grace became the choirmaster. Father Tim was her father’s age. He ‘set about a plan in his head’ Grace said, and started to groom her by driving her to places and giving her gifts. She had no idea that the priest was ‘bad’. She saw him only as someone who was helping her.
‘I never knew about things. I had to work things out for myself.’ Grace’s parents weren’t taking much notice and weren’t telling her about the ways of the world. Her relationship with Father Tim became sexual when she was 15 and it was conducted in secret.
‘My capacity to hide became very strong', Grace told the Commissioner. ‘It was creepy … He would drop me a block away from where I lived and then I would walk home.’
To complicate matters, Father Tim was already married, ‘but it was not a working marriage', Grace said, and his wife lived somewhere else.
When she was 17, Grace’s parents found out ‘down the high street’ what was going on between Father Tim and their daughter. In exactly a fortnight, they had moved to a place out of town. There was no room for Grace in their new house so Father Tim found her somewhere to live.
But by now Grace’s good school grades were sliding. She completed Year 11 and ‘started 12 but I couldn’t concentrate. It just does you in’. And so any career she might have had ‘went straight out the window’.
It seemed clear that people around her knew about the relationship. Even the Anglican nuns knew about it. A couple of them ‘looked after me a bit’, Grace said, but apart from that, no one was helping or protecting her.
Grace now believes, from what she’s pieced together, that a church warden realised what was going on between her and Father Tim, and made a deal with him: if Father Timothy didn’t disclose about the boys the warden was bringing back to the ‘church lounge room’ for sex, then he wouldn’t tell anyone about Father Tim and Grace.
Grace’s contact with Father Timothy Anderson lasted seven years.
Grace acknowledges that she ‘wanted and needed’ the contact with Father Tim, but is aware that she was manipulated by him. ‘What happened to me was a situation of rape. And I never realised that was the case, but it’s just grooming up to rape.’
After Father Tim’s death, Grace ‘didn’t have a clue’ what to do with herself. She got married shortly afterwards to another priest.
When that marriage ended she lived alone. In her late 30s, Grace went through a ‘promiscuous’ phase. In her mid-40s she became suicidal and was voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital. She came out ‘when I thought I could face the world’.
About 12 years ago, after seeing someone talking on television about child sexual abuse in the Church, Grace contacted Broken Rites and saw a solicitor, who helped her get compensation.
Grace believes she’s going through another suicidal cycle now. When she can make people laugh and be funny, she knows she’s well. But she hasn’t been like that for a long time, even though she has been getting very good support from a counsellor.
She has recently had a falling out with the Church, for reasons that aren’t related to the sexual abuse, and it has distressed her deeply. Grace now describes herself as an atheist.
‘I cannot believe the arrogance of the Church, the bad manners.’
When the Commissioner thanked her for telling her story Grace said, ‘It’s not a problem. It’s been with me all my life, I know it well’.