Lucie is angry with Father Walters, the priest who repeatedly molested her from when she was seven years old. But she is angrier with the Catholic Church, and in particular the bishop of the diocese in regional Victoria where she grew up. Lucie is certain the bishop knew of complaints about Father Walters, and that he dealt with the problem by moving the priest from parish to parish, allowing him to continue his sexual abuse of children in each new location.
‘If you were an alcoholic, or you were a gambler, and you were put in a gaming room or in a pub, what are you going to do? So even though [Father Walters] had the problem and shouldn’t have done what he did, to be put around so many places over so many years – yeah. The bishop and the priests knew all along. Definitely … They didn’t particularly deny it, as such, but just moved him on’, Lucie told the Commissioner.
‘I think that’s the most painful part … This was just so underhand and secretive, it was just so not what the Church was supposed to be.'
Lucie grew up in a staunchly Catholic family. ‘Church was everything. The priest was everything.’ The family attended church every Sunday, and Lucie’s parents were honoured when Father Walters came to their house to join them for a meal. In the early 1980s, he was a regular visitor to their home, even staying with them at their holiday house. When Father Walters visited he would sit Lucie, the youngest in the family, on his lap, slip his hands under her clothes and molest her. Other family members would be nearby, she said.
‘Certainly there was others around. That’s where I think he was very brazen.’
He didn’t speak to her about it, or say she mustn’t tell anyone. ‘I think they just knew that you wouldn’t.’
Father Walters lived in the parish for about two years, and was then moved elsewhere. Lucie’s abuse occurred throughout that time. After Father Walters left there was some occasional contact between him and Lucie’s parents to start with, but eventually it came to an end.
Father Walters was later arrested for sex offences against multiple victims, convicted and jailed. Lucie followed the case in the media. She appreciates the long and hard efforts of those in the community who fought to bring Father Walters to justice, and mentions a staff member at the local Catholic school in particular. ‘It wouldn’t have come out to the full extent without people like her that were prepared to – she was shushed for so many years.’
Lucie herself was married by then, living in country Victoria with her husband and children. Until coming to the Royal Commission she had never disclosed her abuse, except to her husband. She believes the consequences of Walters’s abuse include the depression she has suffered from for much of her adult life and difficulties with trust. She had seen a counsellor on and off for help with the depression, but without revealing her abuse.
‘I sometimes just kind of feel like – you need to move on. You can’t change what’s happened, you’ve just got to, you know …
‘I think it’s more managing yourself – like with exercise, and eating well, doing a little bit of meditation. Things like that, rather than particularly rehashing what’s actually happened.’
Lucie is determined to move on. The pain involved in revisiting the abuse means that for now she’s decided not to take legal action against the Church. And while she has considered reporting Father Walters to police, at the moment she’s decided against that too. Any positive outcome would be outweighed by the negatives of the experience: talking again about the abuse and, perhaps, having to argue to be believed. She doesn’t know if it would even make a difference. ‘What’s going to change?’