Lydia’s family were devoutly Catholic and attended their local church in regional Victoria. The parish curate Father Parker assisted at mass, and during the mid-1960s when Lydia was around 10 years old, he also visited the family at home.
The priest would sexually abuse Lydia when they were alone in the house, including tongue kissing her and fondling her genitals. Later on she learned that he had also molested her sister, but at the time neither knew the other was being abused. The abuse continued for two years until Parker was moved to another parish.
Lydia’s father was not around much due to his work commitments and she was afraid she would get into trouble from her mother if she disclosed what the priest was doing. ‘I don’t think that I even thought that I could say something.’
During that period Father Parker was often present at the Catholic primary school Lydia attended. He was popular with children, but didn’t ever abuse Lydia there. After he went away he came back to visit her when she was ill and he sent her letters (though ‘nothing sexual’).
It wasn’t until a few years ago Lydia first spoke about the abuse by Father Parker. She had been empanelled on the jury of a child sexual abuse trial and this brought back memories of her own experiences. Some of the things the man was alleged to have done to his victims were the same as that which Father Parker had done to Lydia.
‘It wasn’t so much distressing at the time – I felt that I handled that quite well – but afterwards I thought, “I can’t keep quiet any longer”.’
Lydia contacted an organisation that does research and advocacy about matters of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. They referred her to a legal firm for advice, and the firm assisted her in dealing with the Church’s Towards Healing process. As part of this she had to have a consultation with a psychologist, which lasted for almost three hours. It was distressing and confronting as she not only had to discuss the abuse itself but also the ways it had shaped her life.
‘[I] went back through my whole life. And talked about how I’d been brought up and how the abuse had affected me and my relationship with men. I felt, sort of going through that process, I really think that I wouldn’t have married the man that I did had I not had that experience.’
She was given a copy of the psychologist’s report ‘which I destroyed after I’d had it for a little while ... I didn’t want my family to see it’. This report was also provided to the panel she met with. They discussed it briefly, asked a few more questions, and after deliberation made an offer of compensation. Lydia was awarded around $40,000, some of which went in legal fees. At the time she was satisfied with the amount.
In hindsight however, she feels it wasn’t very much, particularly as she comes to understand the full impact the abuse had on her life. These impacts included a loss of faith in the Church, which had previously been a big part of her life.
The matter has not been reported to police as Father Parker is now deceased. She still has not told her parents about the abuse. ‘I had thought that I would not be doing anything while they were alive. And I think it would really, really devastate them.’
Lydia believes that people are now more educated about child sexual abuse, including her own family, and that this is a big step towards preventing and dealing with it.
‘In this day and age I would hope that parents are more aware, and there is certainly a lot more information given to parents ... Now, looking at my daughter and my son and their children, they’re very much aware of what’s happening with their children. But I’m sure there are a lot of parents that still aren’t ... We talk with the grandchildren, just as general conversation, so that if something happened I would hope that they would say something.’