Honora was 10 years old in the 1950s when her mother invited the parish priest, Father Arturo, to visit to the family home in Melbourne. The family was in the living room when Father Arturo asked Honora to join him in the kitchen. When she entered the kitchen he instructed her to stand close to him, whereby he proceeded to touch her nipples with his thumbs. Honora recalled feeling conflicted. She knew Father Arturo’s behaviour was wrong but she’d also been raised with the belief that the priest was a respected and trusted leader.
‘I do remember quite clearly the feeling, the sensation of freezing - and I had been brought up in a very strict Catholic environment, in particular Irish nuns in a convent - and all I could think of at the time was “He’s a priest, it must be alright”.’
It was at that moment that Honora’s sister saw what was happening from the living room and decided to intervene. ‘Definitely I was one of the lucky ones with regard to my experience with Arturo in that my sister popped her head around the corner and was able to put a stop to what might have been much worse … I thought that was the end of it.’
Following this incident, Honora’s sister reported the abuse to their mother who then discussed it with the entire family, causing Honora intense shame and embarrassment. ‘And I felt I’d been involved. She didn’t realise of course how I was feeling. But I felt I’d been involved in something lurid and sinful. I think I might have even confessed it.’ Honora does not know if her mother reported Father Arturo to the Church.
Years later as an adult, Honora married and had her own children. She has maintained her faith in God and Catholicism but lost all respect for the Church as an institution. ‘I feel I’ve been betrayed grossly by the Church. All the times they’ve drummed into me that I was the sinner when they were the sinners.’
‘The Church has got a lot of power and a lot of money, and that flies in the face of Christ’s teachings too. So when you think of it we were all pretty silly believing it all.’
Honora told the Commissioner that her own children have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of leaders within the Catholic Church, which has caused her enormous anger, grief and guilt. She believes that the cover up of child abuse at the hands of priests goes all the way up the hierarchy, and the Church should be held to account for these misdeeds.
‘I knew that individual cases of child abuse had happened over the centuries, and over the years. I knew that. But I never realised that the hierarchy was so deeply involved in the cover up. I never doubted their integrity, I never doubted that. And that’s the biggest shock to me, the biggest shock. I want to see the Church be taken to the International Tribunal of Human Rights in The Hague because they’re criminals to have done what they did, to cover up.’
Honora told the Commissioner she has internalised her anger at the Church for a long time and is conscious not to express it in front of her children. Her husband cannot speak about child sexual abuse with her because his own feelings of guilt are too strong. Honora believes the Church regards children as ‘expendable’ and she is currently taking antidepressants to help her cope with her strong emotions on the matter.
‘They should be answerable to their crimes … and nothing, no amount of therapy or talking to me with regard to counselling is going to take that away from me.’
Honora now has several grandchildren who are a significant source of pride and resilience. Despite her anger and rejection of the Church hierarchy she maintains a strong faith in God and commitment to the protection of all children.
‘For me, children have always been and still are and always will be sacrosanct … To the Church they’re expendable … I talk for all the voiceless victims of the Church.’