Lily remembers Father Morley as a friendly and charming figure in the playground of her Catholic school in Sydney. ‘Kids would jump all over him … He was very charismatic.’ Father Morley joined the parish in the early 1970s, when Lily was in 5th Class. ‘When he was coming to the parish there was a bit of excitement because he was young. My father said, “He’s just like Jesus. He’s like Jesus”.’
Lily has trouble remembering the full details of her encounters with Father Morley, after decades of pushing them out of her mind. ‘No one ever said, “What happened to you was wrong”. So I kept telling myself to stop making a big deal about this thing.’ But she remembers the emotions of the time vividly, and certain moments of shock and surprise have stayed with her.
Sister Claire was principal of the primary school. ‘She came into the class and said … “We have a lovely way of saying confession today. We are going to go over to the convent and we are going one by one into Father Morley and we are going to sit on his lap”.’ Lily remembers the class of young girls grumbling, knowing this was wrong. ‘We talked about it on the way over. I say “yuck” because as a 10-year-old that’s what we were feeling. This is yuck, this is horrible!’
Lily can’t remember which sins she confessed that day. She remembers ‘feeling awful’ through the whole session, in a sparsely furnished room with Father Morley seated in a chair. Afterwards Lily waited for a friend to come out of the room. The two girls sprinted from the convent together, running back to the playground, where Lily whispered, ‘We have to tell our mothers. We have to’.
Lily did speak to her mother. ‘To me she didn’t seem to react. I think she would’ve not known what to do. … I fantasised that she might’ve told someone, that she might’ve done something.’ Lily’s parents have died so she may never know. However, the girls were not asked again to give confession in Father Morley’s lap.
Later that year girls from the school were taken on a ‘retreat’ to the Southern Highlands. Sister Claire accompanied them, but Lily remembers her surprise when Father Morley turned up at the convent where they were staying.
‘We were split into two groups. I was with Sister Claire.’ There were no other adults supervising the retreat. Half the girls went off with Father Morley. ‘The next morning … they were all talking about how he was walking into their showers while they were having showers. In and out of the showers.’
A few years later Father Morley officiated at the wedding of Lily’s older sister. Lily remembers the family joking about how drunk Father Morley became at the celebration back at her home. ‘He grabbed me around the chest, I struggled to get away from him. … My sister was in the kitchen and I remember her just saying, “Lily! Lily, come here”. She says I was crying.’ Lily’s sister has told her their mother was present. ‘How did Mum react? Mum just stared. Mum didn’t know what to do. That was in our home.’
Lily’s schoolwork suffered. ‘I’d sit in the classroom and just feel like it was impossible for me. … 5th Class stood out for me – I remember being a very sad kid.’
Lily has not been to the police. She has not sought compensation. Nor has she seen a counsellor. Speaking to the Royal Commission has been the first time Lily has told anyone about the incidents in 40 years. She is still coming to terms with the impact on her life. ‘My husband … thinks I push him … Once he asked me, has something happened to you? He’ll approach me sometimes; I push him … It has affected me.’ Lily has now shared her story with her husband.
Lily is troubled because the school, and Sister Claire especially, failed her and her school-friends. Even as 10-year-olds they sensed Father Morley’s behavior was suspect, and yet their principal, Sister Claire, acted as a facilitator of the abuse rather than protector. Lily would like to know Father Morley’s fate. ‘My father was very involved in that church. He did everything for that school. He laid the carpet. He would’ve called him “mate”.’