Jenny's story

Jenny’s parents ran a sheep station in Victoria. The eldest of several children, she was sent to board at a Catholic school in country Victoria in the mid-1960s at the age of nine, seeing her family only on holidays and occasional weekends.

Jenny told the Commissioner the sexual abuse she suffered at the school was perpetrated by Monsignor Wheeler. He organised with the nuns for the girls to help him with chores at the presbytery.

‘We started off washing his car and it was great. He took us all for a drive, three or four of us, and bought us soft drinks. At first it was all fun. Then he started doing things like rubbing himself against me while I was waxing the car.’

Wheeler was soon inviting the girls to sit on his knee for driving lessons. He started fondling them and soon, Jenny said, ‘He had his hand down my pants and he interfered with me. He’d say, “Who’s going to steer the car today?” After the first time, I always said I’d steer, because my cousin who was younger was there and I didn’t want him doing that to her.’

Jenny said her mother was told about the abuse in the late 1960s through her aunt. ‘She believed the groping bit, but not that he’d done anything more. She was such a staunch Catholic, she didn’t want to believe it.’

Jenny’s mother reported the abuse to the nun in charge of the boarders, and thereafter the girls weren’t left alone with Wheeler. Later, Jenny’s mother took her to the police to report Wheeler’s abuse.

Jenny said she understood that the police received about 14 other reports of abuse by Wheeler. No charges were laid against Wheeler and he was moved overseas.

In the 2000s, Jenny sought advice about taking civil action against the Church, but was told by a law firm it would be too difficult. Another lawyer referred her to Towards Healing. ‘They offered counselling, prayers, words, but they were all token gestures.’

James Burns introduced himself, telling Jenny he was there to help her with the Towards Healing process. He told her what had happened to her was terrible. ‘He said, “I’m on your side”. But when I went to the interview, there was Burns sitting beside the bishop. It was pretty clear what side he was on.’

Jenny described the process as difficult. She wanted to know first if the bishop believed her. ‘He said he did and I thanked him. Then they said, “How much money do you want?” I asked for $40,000, but they said they couldn’t afford it. The bishop said, “The parish is going bankrupt because of the payouts we’ve had to make”. He wanted to pay me $20,000.’

Jenny was left alone in a room ‘to think about it’ and when Burns and the bishop returned they again asked how much she wanted. Jenny told them $30,000 and they agreed. ‘And that was the last I saw or heard of them’, Jenny said.

Jenny said she found Towards Healing intimidating. She also thought the police had failed her, the other children and any others that came after. ‘They failed everybody in the end by not pursuing it, not just me.’

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