When Jan’s sister asked her what she could remember about their parish priest from when they were young, she immediately understood what she was talking about.
‘I knew straight away. It did not come as a shock. So somewhere along the line I must have joined the dots, put two and two together, and it all became like for me I could understand then why she made the choices that she did.’
Jan and her siblings grew up in a Catholic family in the 1960s. They all went to mass every week and the children went to a Catholic primary school. Father Garr was the parish priest.
‘He had become a friend of the family. And in those days priests were on a pedestal, and to be befriended by the parish priest was quite, I guess for Mum and Dad, quite an honour, to have a priest who came regularly to the house, who dropped in unannounced many times.
'When you think now about it you would think that was very odd but in those days it was probably quite an honour. They would have thought that was a great thing.'
Jan knows now that two of her siblings were regularly sexually abused by Garr. She also remembers an incident that occurred when she was about 11.
‘My memory is that I was there in the presbytery with him. He was drinking I guess it was whisky, alcohol in a glass, and I was there alone with him. and he was kissing me and like he was coming close and he was starting to kiss me. And then we were interrupted. Someone came into the room.’
At that point, Garr stopped what he was doing. He didn’t approach Jan again. Soon after she went to high school in a different suburb.
Jan didn’t tell anybody about what happened partly because, in those days, kids didn’t tell their parents much. At the time, she also felt that it might be seen as somehow her fault.
Jan said that the abuse didn’t have a big effect on how her life turned out. She’s had a long and happy marriage, kids, and a good career. However, the abuse Garr subjected her siblings to had a significant impact on them, and by extension, on the rest of the family.
‘My story is part of our family’s story and I wasn’t going to come today … but I’ve been thinking about it and I guess my experience wasn’t as traumatic as theirs. It was really a one-off incident. I count myself very lucky that it wasn’t. And my family is just incredible, with such incredible consequences.
‘I knew I was going to cry. I feel that this is a good thing and I know that tears are part of that. I guess through the years it comes up and then we just sort of bury it again.’
Jan said when her siblings later revealed the abuse to their mother, she was shocked and very upset. She believed them, and tried to answer their questions as best she could, but there have been problems which are ongoing.
‘Our family certainly, our lives have been changed because of those couple of years, of that continual abuse. And in one way maybe it’s made our family stronger in terms of our relationship. But I know as individuals both my sister and my brother’s lives, there have been times of very dark struggles.
‘Mum and my sister’s relationship has been problematic because she, as a result of her abuse, became a rebellious teenager, and because she has struggled with relationships with men in particular. Mum has seen that as a bad thing, as a weakness. So that has impacted on their relationship, which has then impacted on our family’s relationship. It’s really, really made things at times very difficult.’
Jan’s brother and sister both went through Towards Healing, while Jan saw her role more as to support them. However, they didn’t find the process helpful. Because Garr had died by then, the Church said they couldn’t do anything other than offer some counselling. Jan said that that felt like the Church failing to acknowledge that the abuse actually happened.
Jan is grateful to the Royal Commission for giving survivors another opportunity to tell the story of their lives, and to continue getting to the truth.
‘I know for my sister and for myself, while it’s upsetting, it’s been an opportunity because I think it’s good to be able to talk about it, for people to be able to understand the lifelong impacts it has had on people, on people’s lives, on their relationships, on their futures.’