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Imelda Grace's story

‘In my late teenage years my brother-in-law told my family that he felt I had a lot of sadness in my life. My mother told me I should tell him this was not true, but I did not feel I could say this.’

From as far back as she can remember Imelda and her siblings were always at church. Her father was an Anglican minister in Sydney during the 1950s, and this meant Imelda also knew many of the other priests.

When Imelda was a toddler her father became close to Brendan Clark, the trainee minister at their church. Clark often visited the family home for dinners and on weekends, and he babysat Imelda and her siblings.

Imelda adored Clark and they had a close relationship both inside and outside the church. When she was three years old she told her siblings that she was ‘Clark’s girl’. With the benefit of hindsight she doesn’t doubt that Clark was grooming her.

Clark first sexually abused Imelda when she was four. She remembers being in a very dark and confined area, underneath the stage of the parish hall. Something was covering her face and this restricted her breathing. She felt a ‘sausage’ brush over her face, and something painful between her legs.

‘I believe Mr Clark was penetrating my vagina with his finger … I remember trying to tell him it was hurting and trying to get away, move my head away. I remember feeling very upset that he wasn’t listening and didn’t care.’

One afternoon after church service Imelda was sitting on Clark’s lap as he played the piano. He fondled her bottom and between her legs, causing her body to move, and she remembers not liking this.

Another time she was standing next to the piano when Clark fondled her. They were interrupted by her father, who walked in and saw what happened.

Imelda never saw Clark again. She remembers asking her father where he had gone, but she wasn’t told what happened to him. Imelda doubts whether she disclosed to anyone what had occurred between her and Clark at the time. She has since asked her siblings if they know about it, but they weren’t aware of any abuse.

Throughout her childhood Imelda had nightmares of being trapped and unable to move. After Clark left the church she felt uncomfortable around other ministers or trainees. She retreated into herself at school, and became known for anxiety-related behaviours which continued into her teenage years.

Her father was very protective of her as she grew up but she never understood why. There were times where he didn’t allow her to attend sleepovers or camps, and she believes this was because he knew what Clark had done.

After she graduated from high school Imelda saw many different psychiatrists and counsellors. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety but felt nothing helped her. She has had several different health problems which have affected her career, and in the past had suicidal thoughts.

Imelda has now left the Anglican Church. ‘Unfortunately the more involved I was at church, the more my past memories of abuse and post-traumatic reactions and symptoms were triggered.’

It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that Imelda first remembered the abuse. She was shocked and confused because she had spent all her life shutting it out, and didn’t understand why these memories had come flooding back. Soon she disclosed the abuse to her family, psychiatrist and close friends.

‘These events have profoundly affected my faith and my trust of Christian people [and] impacted on all my relationships with men, with family and with work colleagues … The secrecy that I adopted in coping with the original trauma has given rise to a pattern of becoming involved in, enduring, destructive, controlling or secretive relationships.’

Imelda first reported Clark to the Church’s Professional Standards Unit (PSU) in the mid-2000s. After several meetings held over two years, she received an apology from the archbishop and a small amount of compensation for her counselling.

In her contact with the PSU, she suggested that they contact two former archbishops who had known Clark. She wanted to know why Clark had been moved so many times within the Church, but PSU did not follow this up.

Imelda then took it upon herself to do some research on Clark, with the assistance of her father. She discovered that Clark ‘disappeared’ from the Anglican Church the same year he left her father’s church and had lost all his licences, and had changed to a different religion.

After learning this she reported Clark to the police and made her statement, but decided not to pursue the criminal process because she felt she wasn’t strong enough. She didn’t want to be ‘demolished’ and discredited by lawyers as an unreliable witness.

‘I did not believe that I would be successful in this process … I felt it could be turned around in a court of law.’

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