The Catholic Church ruined Liane’s life, and her relationship with her large family, by covering up – for nearly half a century – the sexual abuse perpetrated by one of its priests.
It also killed her brother, who died after years of alcohol and drug abuse following the molestation he suffered at a Catholic boys’ school, she said.
Growing up in a prominent political family, Liane was schooled in the 1960s by nuns at several schools from which she was expelled. One nun stood her before the class and denounced her Labor politician father as ‘a communist’.
Father Doyle, the parish priest who ‘was in and out of our house’, once sermonised from the pulpit that ‘it was a mortal sin to vote for Labor’.
Decades later, after threats of legal action, she was given access by the Church to letters Doyle wrote to his local archbishop in the 1960s. These letters discussed the paedophile priest who molested Liane in his car on numerous trips between school and her home, starting when she was 14.
Liane brought the documents to her private session with the Royal Commission.
According to those documents, Doyle wrote to the archbishop numerous times about the activities of the curate, Father Robin Prendergast.
‘I am afraid that either Father Prendergast or myself must leave this parish’, one early letter states. This was due to Prendergast’s ‘defiance, insolence, impertinence, immaturity and irresponsibility’.
Among a litany of complaints over several years was Prendergast’s ongoing association with Liane, to accompanying ‘talk’ in the parish – and beyond.
The young priest lied to Father Doyle and other priests about his activities – as well as his promises to reform himself.
When Prendergast admitted to ‘pettings, kissings and impure touchings under their clothes’, Doyle wrote to his ultimate superior:
‘I pointed out to him that he had had many chances, that this was the worst of all his defections, that he could go to jail for interfering with minors and that there was something really evil about laying hands on a child in school uniform and that I had to protect the youngsters in the parish who were in his charge.’
A reply from the archbishop merely stated that Prendergast’s parish would be ‘changed’ and a new priest would take his place.
Doyle become parish priest at several locations, later receiving the Papal medal, other correspondence revealed.
Liane recalls ‘being groomed for quite a while’ before the day Prendergast told her he would be driving her home. Thereafter followed ‘a great number of occasions’ of sexual abuse. The first time, Prendergast took her back to his room in the presbytery but nothing happened when Father Doyle returned unexpectedly early.
‘It never happened in the presbytery’, Liane recalled. It was ‘always in the car’.
While she is enraged that the Catholic authorities knew about Prendergast and allowed him to be a priest for more than half a century afterwards, she never reported him to the police or to Church authorities, other than a priest, Father Northam, who was a family friend.
Liane knows Father Northam was among three people who complained to the Church about Prendergast before he was moved on – almost a year after Doyle’s detailed letter was written.
‘There is no way on earth that a 14-year-old girl could speak to a bishop’, Liane said. ‘They ruled the place.’
But a woman in her 50s could. When Liane saw a news item about Prendergast in the 2000s she contacted the current archbishop demanding correspondence she knew must exist because of the long ago efforts of Father Northam.
Liane was told by the archbishop there was ‘nothing’ in Church files, ‘and we’ve certainly never heard anything like that about Prendergast’.
When her brother died and she discovered he had been a victim of child sexual abuse, Liane engaged lawyers and received a formal apology from the Church, then another one not long after when ‘that letter’ from Father Doyle was finally unearthed. Liane noted that this letter emerged soon after the Royal Commission was announced, with its legal ability to subpoena documents.
‘What they have produced have come from files other than Prendergast’s file’, Liane explained. ‘That’s what blew me … so when Doyle wrote a letter to the archbishop [in the 1960s] it went into the Doyle file rather than an archbishop file.’
Despite the abuse and its aftermath ruining her relationship with her family for decades – particularly with her father – Liane is adamant that ‘what the nuns did to me harmed me far more than what the priest did’. This included beatings, humiliation and expulsion.
Liane has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and other health ailments. The abuse, she said, ‘comes back in patches … nightmares … usually because I’ve seen something, read something’.
She was ‘pretty shocked’ to read a psychiatrists’ report on her, commissioned for a civil claim she felt compelled to make after her brother died.
‘The aim’, she agreed, ‘was to get a settlement with the Church.’ Her initial claim for $200,000 has been rejected, but she continues in the hope of a settlement as she cannot afford to lose her house if court action failed.
‘Not under any circumstances’, does she want to explore the Church’s Towards Healing route of redress.
Liane has regular counselling, takes Valium and is suffering from memory blocks, which she thinks have worsened in the past few years. Despite its acknowledgment of the sexual abuse, Liane says the Church has so far only offered her 10 sessions with a psychologist.
‘My GP can give me that. The government [Medicare] gives me that.’
While Liane tried to report the abuse to police recently, she believes nothing will happen because Prendergast is dead. ‘I am far more interested in the cover up’, she said. ‘That’s the real crime.’
‘I still can’t get over the fact that archbishops tell lies.’ She read the contents of part of a file released to her. ‘It’s plain this [Prendergast] was a dedicated paedophile. Over a half a century he was able to beat the bishops at every turn.’
When her father lay dying she remembered: ‘I sat there crying in total silence [due to years of family disbelief in her story] … because it’s not going to get fixed on a death bed’.