Kathleen's story

From the moment he arrived in their Catholic parish in the 1950s, Father Hartley ruled with ‘an iron fist’, Kathleen said. ‘He’d stop the mass if a family came in late and make them sit up the front. He’d belittle them and make comments to make sure they were embarrassed. As a child you were terrified, but so were the parents.’

Kathleen told the Commissioner that Father Hartley was a regular visitor to the playground and classrooms and always carried a riding whip. She said the children were told by the nuns to do whatever Father said.

The priest started making sexual comments towards Kathleen from the outset. ‘I was in charge of playing the national anthem every morning on the record player in the kitchen of the presbytery.’ Kathleen said Father Hartley was always there. When he found out that she’d started menstruating, he told her that God had made her a woman early, and that he’d tell her later about the special job that God had given her. ‘I was 10 years old. I had no idea what he was talking about. Sometimes he’d put his hands down my pants and lick his fingers, saying it was the blood of Christ. I was horrified.’

When she turned 12, Kathleen was put on a class roster to take Father Hartley his lunch. On her first visit, the priest kissed her and put his hand inside her clothes.

'I told him to stop and he slapped me and said, “Don’t you ever say don’t to me. This is God’s will. You have been chosen, and you will do whatever God tells you to do”.’

At a school retreat, Kathleen’s class was invited to write down anything that was troubling them and put it in a box. She and four other girls wrote that they wanted Father Hartley to stop touching them. The young priest leading the retreat told them he’d look into it.

‘For two weeks nothing happened, and I thought it was wonderful’, Kathleen said. ‘Then one day, Father Hartley told me to go to the vestry. He told me I’d broken God’s law by telling, and that all my family would be punished.’

He then forced her to strip and penetrated her with his riding whip. ‘It was so painful. He said that from now on I was his, and told me I should expect this to happen every Sunday morning at 25 past eight. And it did.’

The next day Kathleen awoke unable to speak. She remained mute for a year, as her mother took her to various doctors and her father took her to Father Hartley for healing. The priest told Kathleen that he could now do whatever he liked because no one would hear her.

‘He used to put the chalice cloth on my back and ejaculate over it. Then he’d fold the cloth up in a neat little square and put it in a calico bag. My mother used to wash those cloths, but how could I say anything to her?’

Kathleen’s speech returned after two sessions of hypnotherapy. She left school at 15, but found she couldn’t hold down a job because so many people and situations reminded her of Father Hartley.

In the 2000s, she sought legal advice and went through the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. A woman took Kathleen’s statement; however in its written form, Kathleen felt the abuse had been glossed over. ‘The woman said to me, “Well the Bishop has to read it and he’d be offended. I have to make things easier for him”.’

At one mediation session she was offered payment for 12 months’ counselling and a job at the end helping others who’d been through similar experiences. ‘They said, “You can tell them that it does get better as life goes on”. It’s been 50 years and I live with it daily. At the end of the day, I got just under $20,000 from the Church, but I didn’t want money. I only wanted an apology. That’s really all, just that and for somebody to say they believed me.’


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