Jill attended a Catholic primary school in the late 1950s and early 60s. The school had a system in which the children would deliver lunch every day to Father Heaney, the parish priest who lived in the presbytery. Jill told the Commissioner, ‘I was always sort of jealous of the girls who were called’.
Then when she was 11, Jill’s turn came around. She remembers putting down the lunch tray and then, ‘I found myself with him kissing me. This big, thick tongue going down my mouth, his rancid breath and he had a smell about him as well’. Heaney then groped Jill and forced her to touch his penis. ‘I’m trying to get away and he’s holding me and I can’t get away’.
Over the year the same kind of abuse happened multiple times. Jill has been reliving those moments ever since. She said, ‘I don’t know how many times it happened but it’s happened a million times for me’.
Sometimes Heaney visited Jill’s home, ‘and he would get me and cuddle me while speaking to my parents’. Sometimes when he took her confession, he would ask questions about whether she had kissed any of the boys. He also warned her not to tell anyone what was happening. Jill took this to heart. ‘I was so, so scared. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t even tell my friends at that stage.’
The abuse ended when Jill went to high school. A few years later she started talking about it with some friends of hers who had also been abused by Heaney. One day, while the girls were on a school retreat, the facilitator told them to write down any questions they wanted to ask and put them in a little barrel.
‘We all sort of got together and said, “Should we write down what Heaney did to us?”’
They decided to go ahead with it and put their stories into the barrel. Afterwards, as far as Jill can remember, no one talked to them and nothing was done. From then on, Jill tried to minimise the significance of the abuse and push it to the back of her mind, but she was constantly struggling with the ongoing impact.
‘He took away my innocence when I was a child. I think he took my confidence. And the fear that I feel – I’ve always felt fearful. I’ve never been able to achieve high.’
Jill’s first marriage suffered. ‘Sexually-wise I was pretty much a cold fish. It didn’t sort of come easy to me. That caused huge problems in our life.’ She also felt like she couldn’t confront people, even when she should.
In 2002, Jill decided to participate in the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. The Church referred her to a psychologist and Jill found the sessions very helpful. She felt like the process was ‘on its way to being a happy solution’.
However, when it came time for her to attend the mediation session, Jill asked the Church if her psychologist could attend to give her support. The Church said no, and Jill had to go through the process alone. She found it frightening and traumatic.
‘There was a couple of nuns and a priest, about half a dozen people. Very confronting. I think the solicitors had said to just tell your story, but I suppose I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t. I just wasn’t. I felt, once again, inadequate. Felt as if I could just – why am I here? This is just silly.’
When Jill had finished, everyone went out and left her in the room alone. Her solicitor then returned and told her that the Church were offering a payment of $20,000, and that he was going to take half of that in his legal fees.
‘That’s when he said, “They said that your story was not as bad as others, and that’s why you got that amount”. I burst into tears then because my nerves were probably just shot. Then I got up and I left.’
Jill had to sign a confidentiality deed. She said she was given no follow-up support. To this day she still experiences flashbacks and fantasies about that day.
‘The anger, the anger that I feel sometimes, it’s just in there. My flashbacks were standing up and abusing the crap out of them, picking these chairs up and throwing them through the 15th storey window. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to yell and scream and say, “This is a little girl in pigtails here, a little girl, not this well-dressed woman sitting in front of you with these little words that seem inadequate, you know. It’s a little girl”.’
Heaney died many years ago. Jill said that if he were still alive she definitely would have reported him to police. Her focus now is on the people who knew what was happening at the time but never stepped in to stop it.
‘I believe it should all be brought out, no matter how far this goes up ... I think some people are still alive who knew about this and who were involved. Names need to be named.’