Lucy grew up in a large, devoutly Catholic family in Victoria where priests and nuns often visited the house and there was always ‘an enormous sense of the authority of the Church’. In hindsight, she believes her family was targeted by a local group of paedophile priests. Several of the priests sexually abused Lucy on three separate occasions during the 1960s.
The first incident occurred when she was four years old. After mass one day, Father Doyle took her into the sacristy. Lucy said, ‘The assault involved digital penetration and him masturbating on me’. She has a vivid memory of what happened next.
‘He came over and he leant down to me, and I remember his face very clearly, he said, “If you tell anyone I will kill you”.’
Doyle went on to say something about Lucy’s mother, but by then Lucy was so terrified she could barely understand the words. She assumed the priest was threatening to kill her mother too.
Lucy didn’t mention the abuse to anyone, not only because of the fear but also because, being so young, she didn’t have the language to express what had happened.
The second incident occurred a few years later. Lucy described it as ‘vastly more traumatic’ and said she remembered it in ‘segments. Stop motion, if you like’.
‘I remember standing in the sacristy again. I remember the light coming through the windows was very yellow, golden light.’
A door opened and two priests entered, carrying Lucy’s sister between them.
‘She was incredibly distressed. She wasn’t crying, she was just silent and in shock and she had some blood running down her leg into her sock. And then the priests were laughing. There was several of them in the room.’
The priests then took Lucy out through the door.
‘I don’t remember how I got onto the bed but I remember looking at my feet being tied, my legs were tied to the posts and I looked up and saw there was a priest with a camera.’
They lifted up her skirt and ‘I don’t remember what happened after that, and I’m very glad I don’t’.
Lucy spoke to her sister a short while later. She remembers they both cried and talked about how sore they were. ‘You had no idea what had happened to you. It was like being vaulted into some weird hell.’
The third incident occurred when Lucy was about eight years old. She said a priest pushed her down onto a bed and masturbated over her while calling out, ‘Sin, sin, sin’.
Around that time she had another encounter with Father Doyle. He dropped by to visit her father and then lingered back to meet her alone while the adults were gathering for dinner.
‘He leant down and he put his hand on my back and he gouged the small of my back with his thumb. And he didn’t say anything, he just looked me in the eyes and I knew exactly what he meant.’
Immediately after that, while everyone was having dinner, Lucy took a rope from the shed, made a noose and tried to hang herself from a pole in the backyard. She was stopped just in time by her mother.
There were no more incidents of sexual abuse. However, in high school Lucy went on to endure physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the nuns at her boarding school. But she hadn’t lost her feisty spirit and often spoke back to her abusers, blocking their blows and ducking away whenever she could.
Lucy was eventually kicked out of that school and several other Catholic institutions before, at about age 15, she took matters into her own hands and enrolled herself in the local public high school. There she had a ‘fantastic’ time’. Lucy loved learning, describing it as her ‘salvation’.
Over time the legacy of the abuse impacted on her life. She said, ‘It left me terrified of death … I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Along with that was the anxiety, powerlessness, the feelings of, “How do you make a life?” Even into my 40s, “How do you make a life? You’re not supposed to be here anyhow because someone’s going to kill you”.’
A few years back, Lucy embarked on the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. She said her caseworker is compassionate and helpful but overall the process is ‘fundamentally flawed’.
‘You don’t know who they’re talking to, you don’t know any of that stuff. It seems to me to be quite covert. And I’m not trustworthy of that process.’
When they suggested she might be entitled to $75,000 compensation, Lucy considered it an ‘insult’. Still, she is continuing with the process on the understanding that the Church will help her track down some of her abusers.
Lucy is now on medication for her PTSD and receives ongoing support from a ‘wonderful’ counsellor. She still loves to learn and spends her days working in the field of education.
‘It’s part of that whole process. It’s come full circle that I can look after children in a fundamental way.’