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Jan's story

For most of their marriage, Jan felt Carl was harbouring a secret.

‘We married young and Carl used to drink a lot with our friends. He was a typical larrikin, very funny and full of life, but there’d be times when he’d really withdraw and wouldn’t talk to me. It always seemed the drinking was more than a social thing, that he was using alcohol to fix something.’

The couple had the first of their children in the 1970s and worked to build a happy life together. Jan said her gut instinct told her Carl was holding something back from her, but that she never pushed the point until Carl introduced her to a woman he’d always referred to as ‘Sister Phelps’ during a family holiday in the 1990s.

‘We were having this lovely lunch with Sister Phelps who had been the principal of Carl’s convent primary school in rural Queensland. I was wearing this chain with a locket, with a photo of Carl as an altar boy in it. When I showed it to her she started to cry. She kept saying, “Oh you poor boys”, and that’s when the penny dropped and I realised Carl had been abused. We talked for hours, and she told me a priest at the school had sexually abused a lot of children and that she’d lived her entire life with the guilt of this on her shoulders.’

Carl vehemently denied he’d been a victim, and maintained that stance for many years. ‘He’d say, “It happened to others, but not me”. I totally didn’t believe him, but I left it. In no time his business started to fail dreadfully and we were in debt to nearly a million dollars. We had to sell our home and our car, but we managed to hold onto the business.’

As the couple struggled to recover financially, Jan said, a group of sexual abuse victims contacted Carl asking him to make a report to police. He refused, and she later heard the case had fallen through due to lack of evidence against the priest.

‘Carl still denied, denied, denied he was involved. The police contacted him again in the mid-2000s, and he went from saying nothing happened, to nothing much happened to him, and that’s when Towards Healing came into it.’

Jan recalled Carl’s anger over the Towards Healing process being long and drawn out. She told the Commissioner that Carl received $24,000 in a settlement, before sharing some words he’d written in the late 2000s:

'Why didn’t the Church believe so many people who all had the same story? Why didn’t the Church kick O’Malley out? He has been fed and watered, all because he said it didn’t happen. What can you do for my sons to explain the Church’s inaction caused a rift between them and myself? It’s too late for my father and me, do you care? If it wasn’t for my Jan, I probably would not be here now.'

More recently, Carl, Jan's husband of 40 years, suicided.

‘He was so loved. Carl was a generous, funny and kind man who gave everything of himself to family, friends and clients and was very involved in our local community. Over 1,000 people turned out to his funeral and those who knew him would say he wasn’t a depressed person. In his goodbye letter to me he said he’d tried very hard, but the dark clouds kept coming over him.’

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