‘Prevention is better than cure,’ said Kerri-Ann.
‘The Church have a responsibility and duty to take them out of what they’re doing and get the right help for what their problems are … They’re in positions of trust. That needs to be attended to and they just let them keep doing it.’
Kerri-Ann was brought up in a strict Catholic environment, and always had a solid faith. But her faith stepped up to another level when she was 40 and had what she called a re-conversion.
She started a religious project to help people in the community, including those with mental health problems, drug addicts, and the homeless.
‘It’s been my life, apart from my family. It’s what I’ve been called to do.’
Setting up the project under the Catholic Church meant she had to seek direction from various priests. One was Father Barton and in the 2000s he became her spiritual director.
‘My director was also to be my confessor, so they could get to know me at a soul level. So that I wasn’t to go to confession to other priests in that way unless I really needed to. So I was in obedience to that.’
She placed a deep faith and trust in Father Barton and his ability to guide her. Barton lived on the property and in the first two years they had mass every day, sometimes lasting many hours. They also shared many hours in confession together, with the idea of Barton getting to know Kerri-Ann at a deep spiritual level so he could guide her better.
‘Towards the end of the second year … he was sharing things with me about his whole entire life from birth to the present. Before seminary days, during seminary days and in the priesthood.’
During one of these confessions, Barton disclosed to Kerri-Ann that he had sexually abused a young girl in the past.
‘At first he didn’t tell me that it was actually abuse. He told me about this little girl that he loved.’
He told her he had made a statue of the Virgin Mary and given it to this girl and he said he would go to her place in the afternoons when her parents were busy and spend time with her. She said she found the way he talked about her very strange.
He also told her in confession about a girl he had befriended while on missionary work overseas.
‘He told me he had undressed that little girl and he put her in the shower and he told me he kissed her all over her body. He told me everything. He could see my look, he said “Well didn’t you kiss your children all over? Didn’t you kiss their tummy, their bottom? I mean, wasn’t that pure, a pure thing to do?” And he said how he loved children and how much he would have loved to have had that experience. I said, “Yes, but, you’re not the father”.’
She went to the police and gave a statement about the girl in Australia and what she knew. They told her the case would be handled by police from a station closer to where the events took place, and that they would be in touch with her.
‘And I didn’t get anything. Nothing.’
The police did subsequently interview Barton and he denied any wrongdoing. However, following that interview, Barton spoke to Kerri-Ann again about the girl.
‘He said, “I would never ever have done it if I knew it was going to cause so much pain, sorrow and suffering and grief”. He used all those words. And I thought, “My goodness, is he talking about what he’s done to me?” And it wasn’t. Because he continued, he said “You know, I [made] a statue of Our Lady for her” … I knew he was talking about the little girl. That he was confessing that he had done it.’
She went back to the police and told them he’d confessed. They said he should be under ‘semi-supervision’, but she doesn’t believe any charges were laid. ‘I told them how important it was that that little girl, now a woman, deserved acknowledgement, recognition and truth.’
Kerri-Ann has recently suffered a lot of health problems, as well as the accompanying financial impact of treating them, and her doctor told her they were as a result of the stress she’s been under regarding this case.
Her main concern however is not for herself but for others, as Barton is now in an aged care facility where he’s supposed to be under supervision, but he’s able to enter and leave freely and she’s concerned his age won’t stop him acting inappropriately.
She said the Church is only concerned with protecting itself, not with protecting the victims, and simply wants to avoid scandal. She decided to come the Royal Commission because she felt she wasn’t getting anywhere with the Church.
‘There needn’t be so many victims if those in positions of authority responded and they need to be – like these cases warrant – they be laicised, which means de-frocked. They should leave the order. But instead he’s still being called Father.’