‘The feeling from the very beginning is they tried to minimise and they tried to distance us and not want to take any responsibility or action. I just find that in this day and age incomprehensible.’
Henrietta and Daniel raised their children as Catholics and though they stopped going to church themselves, one of their daughters, Samantha, continued to be closely involved in church activities. Samantha was an altar server at their local Brisbane church and for a long time enjoyed being part of a strong community.
In the 2010s, when Samantha was 14, she attended a practice session for an upcoming church service. While she was there, a young seminarian, Julian Richmond began speaking with her. He persisted with the conversation and during practice started following her around and touching her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. That evening, Samantha told her mother about Richmond and the following day Henrietta went with Samantha to the service.
Henrietta spoke with the dean of the cathedral who said he’d pass on her concerns about Richmond to the monsignor because he was the person responsible for seminarians. Unbeknown to Henrietta, just before the service Samantha was again followed by Richmond who grabbed her around the waist, stopping only when others came into the room. After the service, Richmond went to the area in which Samantha was getting changed and as she tried to leave, persisted in trying to get her to stay.
‘He started talking to me and I was like, this is weird, why is he talking to me about this?’ Samantha said. ‘But it’s the hanging around, the sort of squeezing my shoulder and keeping his hand on there. There’s the following me then you know, moving his hands down and he kept doing it, not getting that “I don’t want to be around you”, and trying to make it so obvious to him. But it’s also that his behaviour became … progressively where it’s like he’s testing the boundaries.’
When Henrietta and Daniel heard of Richmond’s further actions toward Samantha they were sufficiently concerned to report the matter themselves to the monsignor. He said he’d speak to Richmond and offered to pay for counselling for Samantha. The offer was accepted and soon afterwards, the family received a letter from Richmond in which he stated that he hadn’t intended to make Samantha uncomfortable. The monsignor also conveyed to them that Richmond had been ‘really upset and he didn’t mean it’.
‘I guess that’s kind of saying he does realise that what he did, he regrets’, Samantha said. ‘And he didn’t deny that he had done it but then he didn’t admit to doing it either.’
Over the course of many months, Henrietta and Daniel tried to find out who oversaw the seminarians but they were passed between different people and dioceses, each denying responsibility. The monsignor assured them Richmond wouldn’t again serve at the cathedral and that seminarians were now restricted from going to the change area. He asked them to keep the matter private.
When it seemed no other action had been taken against Richmond, Henrietta and Daniel sought a meeting with the archbishop and monsignor together. However, when they arrived at the appointed time they were introduced to a bishop and a representative of Towards Healing, neither of whom had been briefed or knew anything about the matter. Henrietta and Daniel were told at the beginning not to ‘expect too much’. When the bishop heard the story he remarked that Richmond should have been reported to police and dismissed from the seminary.
After the meeting, Henrietta rang Queensland Police and was told by an officer that Richmond’s behaviour didn’t constitute criminal action but that he’d be spoken to and the information would be recorded on the police database for future reference. The officer declined the invitation to speak to Samantha, saying it wouldn’t be useful and would likely upset her.
In the absence of further communication, Henrietta again made enquiries of the Church. Soon afterwards she received a letter from a solicitor stating that Catholic Church staff couldn’t comment because there was a current police investigation. Henrietta and Daniel persisted with trying to find out who in the Church was taking carriage of the matter and met yet another Church representative who told them that Richmond had seen a psychologist and was having further ‘formation’.
In 2014, Samantha again encountered Richmond in the cathedral. His uninvited conversation to her was about sexual matters and she became upset and cried in the car on the way home. At about this time, she’d heard that Richmond had been seen acting inappropriately with a 16-year-old girl and she saw on Facebook that he’d invited a girl to a fundraising dinner.
Henrietta made another call to Queensland Police but was told there was no record of her previous report. She was told that Richmond could be charged with common assault but this wasn’t pursued. She again contacted staff from the Church hierarchy and expressed her anger that Richmond had been allowed at the cathedral without Samantha being given prior knowledge, and also that he’d approached Samantha when he’d been told not to.
Samantha’s school grades suffered as a result of her experiences with Richmond and she was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She lost her faith and become hyper-vigilant, particularly around males.
Years passed and it appeared that none of the child protection measures the Church had assured the family of had been put in place. In seeking guidance and answers, Henrietta, Daniel and Samantha had spoken to nine different Church representatives.
‘For me as a parent it’s the helplessness’, Henrietta said. ‘And for her it’s that no one cares. She’s like, “No one’s even wanting to hear my story. The Church isn’t interested in me and my story”.’
Daniel said he thought the Church relied on a pattern of delays and denials so they could ignore matters they found problematic. ‘I think what they just hope is that overall if we do nothing, if we confuse people enough, frustrate the people enough, tell them we’re not going to do anything, it’ll all just go away.’
Samantha told the Commissioner she’d recently seen media reports in which a senior priest confirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to addressing past sexual abuse by clergy and ensuring safe procedures for children. His words rang hollow because she’d had direct experience of the same priest’s denial of her concerns about Richmond.
‘Not only is it [Richmond’s] actions but it’s the Church’s lack of action that’s made this so much more difficult’, Samantha said. ‘And I just feel like the Church, I don’t know what they thought could happen to them, because they’re separate from government and everything that they almost feel like they’re untouchable. But I hope something can be done ’cause it can’t go on like this.’