‘It was a heartbreaking scene because Mum and Dad had come in to say goodbye and you know, Laurence was always trying to please them and he said, “You can do whatever you like when I die because I’ll be dead and I don’t care, but don’t bring a priest in while I’m still alive”. And Mum said, “Why, love?”
‘And that’s when he told her. So it was horrifically sad. I remember I was there with Laurence, and Mum and Dad both crying, and they walked out and Laurence said, “Please don’t let them drive home”. And I said, “But I have to stay with you because you might die” and he said, “Please get them home first”. He didn’t die that day. He died that night.’
After he found out his son had been sexually abused as a child by Father Doyle, Maree’s father disappeared for two days. ‘He walked out into the night.’ He wasn’t told that Doyle had sexually abused three other of his children besides Laurence, including Maree.
Doyle was in the family home every second night and over a period of years gained Maree’s parents’ trust. The priest would grab the children and touch them inappropriately. If any of them objected he’d tell Maree’s mother ‘It’s just horseplay’.
For Maree and her sister, Doyle’s abuse escalated when he took them ‘on holiday’ to his mother’s house for three days in the early 1970s. His mother wasn’t in the home at the time of the visit and although Maree has other clear memories of the time as a seven-year-old, she recalls nearly nothing of the visit.
Her sister, Eileen, two years older, does remember and told Maree that Doyle raped them both. Looking back, the two girls believed Doyle drugged them before the assault.
When she returned home, Maree had a hip injury and was soon diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. Doyle accompanied her and her mother on a visit to the doctor. ‘He drove us’, Maree said. ‘Like, as if he wasn’t trying to find out what was going on.’
Maree and Eileen disclosed the abuse to each other in a ‘fleeting’ way when they were in their 20s. ‘I was more, “It must have happened”, Maree said. ‘And Eileen went, “Of course it happened”.’ They told their mother two years before her death and asked how she could have left them alone with Doyle. She replied, ‘We trusted him’.
Maree told the Commissioner that she nearly took cocaine at 15 but made the decision not to. ‘I know that day that life could have been over, so I’m really glad I’ve got through’, she said. Of her life and that of her siblings since the abuse, she said they’d performed well at school, but afterwards ‘all went the wrong way’.
‘It’s hard to say what your potential is, isn’t it? I think I’m a great businesswoman but I can only work for myself. I can’t have people telling me what to do. I think we’ve all had broken marriages, we’ve all had just, it’s exhausting to think about.’
Recently Maree and Eileen reported Doyle to police. They were told that no action could be taken because the priest was dead. One of the police officers recommended they speak to the bishop.
‘He said, “The mail is he’s quite good to deal with”,’ Maree said. ‘That police officer was a Catholic, now that I look back. The bishop’s not nice to deal with and he was nothing like that, but to this 50-something-year-old policeman that bishop would be fantastic. Not for us.’
Seeing the bishop wasn’t a positive experience for Maree and Eileen. At their appointed meeting time, the priest their mother had complained to when she found out about Laurence’s abuse was sitting in the waiting room. He greeted the women warmly, telling them what a close friend he’d been to their parents. They thought his presence had been organised as a ploy to disarm them before the meeting.
The bishop told them ‘your mother has already sued the Church’, a statement they found confusing. It transpired that the bishop hadn’t checked his documents properly and was referring to a letter their mother had written in relation to another matter entirely.
‘He was like, “Oh your mother never wanted any of this to be made public”,’ Maree said. ‘It was just bizarre.’
They were referred by the Church to a lawyer who disclosed that he acted on occasions for the Catholic Church. When they tried to get advice from other law firms they were asked to send through detailed statements after which they’d be notified if their cases were accepted.
One lawyer told Maree her compensation case would be between 10 and 30 thousand dollars. ‘I’m just sitting there thinking, you don’t know even know my case. Like it’s so set-up and they’re all in together. To me sitting back it’s such a business, money-making circle. It will never change. If you’re Catholic, you’re going to make money out of this, and it’s just an ongoing I don’t know. Everyone’s getting looked after in this whole thing except the victims.’
The path of negotiating compensation and bringing the Church to account remained difficult for Maree. ‘I don’t think there’s a clear path of what you should do’, she said.
‘There’s a lot of different people saying different things of what the best process is, but I find it really odd how much we have to deal with the Catholic Church. It’s just wrong. They’re in my eyes the criminals. I want to slap [the bishop’s] face. I don’t think I have to call you “bishop”. He was taken aback because we didn’t probably kiss his ring. He’s not anything in my life. He’s not a person of any kind of, do you know what I mean? I’m not just saying [the bishop]. I just don’t know why we have to be near them.’