It all started as a ‘game’. Hilary’s family were invited to her grandparents’ house every weekend for dinner, along with other relatives. Also there was Father Percy Edal, a close friend of Hilary’s grandparents.
Edal was ‘practically part of the family’, Hilary said. He sat at the head of the table and his opinions were always respected. She can’t remember a dinner without him being present.
In the mid-1970s, when Hilary was seven, Edal sexually abused her in a storage cupboard under the stairs. He said he was ‘chosen by God’ to touch her that way and if she told anyone, ‘something bad would happen’.
Hilary was abused over a period of four years, each weekend at her grandparents’ house. She said that she didn’t know what was happening, but felt it was wrong. And it became ‘harder and harder to deal with’ because she couldn’t tell anyone.
When she was eight, Hilary had a mental breakdown. She found the courage to confide in her grandfather, but when he passed away soon after, she believed that Edal’s threat had come true.
‘I’d taken this little dog for a walk, and he was attacked by a big dog and he died. That night his owner was in an accident and he died. It’s not true but I killed them because I was telling people. I was the “special God’s gift” and nobody was allowed to know, and I told people and they died.’
The abuse finally stopped when Edal was moved from the parish. She never knew the reason for his departure and the family never spoke of him again. Hilary tried to tell her parents about what he’d done, but they thought she was making it up. She was surrounded by people who firmly believed that all priests were ‘good people’ who could never be involved in child sexual abuse.
Hilary soon began to question her sanity. She said that, because her family didn’t believe her, she wondered if Edal had actually abused her. As a result, her mental health worsened. Her parents had done nothing about the breakdown when she was eight, and this didn’t change. Hilary has lost count of how many breakdowns she has experienced.
In the early 90s she tried again to tell her family about Edal, but again she was ignored and disbelieved. She spoke to an aunt she was close to, but was told to keep quiet. She has now been estranged from her family for over two decades.
As an adult she has suffered from extreme suicidal ideation. She has nightmares and her relationships have always been strained. Hilary said she refused to attend church services because she didn’t want to be anywhere near priests.
She’s also been overprotective of her children and feels that she’s responsible for their mental health issues. She said she was unable to provide her son with love and he’s been ‘in and out of jail’ his whole life.
‘A screwed up mother can’t parent them, they destroy them.’
If it wasn’t for her Aunt Debra, Hilary is not sure how she’d cope. She told Debra about the abuse in the early 2000s and was immediately believed. Debra has supported and stood by her throughout the estrangement from her family. She said that Debra was a victim of child sexual abuse too, which strengthened their bond.
Regular counselling has been a huge help and Hilary is also supported by her husband. She would like to see greater education for children about sexual abuse, and recommended there be a phone app to help them speak up in a safe and anonymous way.