‘I remember the blackness of his garment and the zipper. I’ve always been frightened every time I see zippers. It really affects me.’
Maree’s early life and long marriage were ruined by her childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the local Catholic curate, Father Bernard Boyle.
She grew up with enormous guilt and had surgery to break her hymen after she married. Although she had several children, Maree’s life has been a misery of breakdowns, psychiatric hospitalisations, domestic violence and, recently, constant verbal abuse from which she still feels unable to extricate herself.
‘When I was young’, Maree said, ‘I had a joyful childhood … it was just wonderful. When the abuse happened I had instead a great dark cloud over me. It was always there.’
Maree said Father Boyle came to the house often and walked around ‘as if he owned the place’. She and her younger sister, also sexually abused, were always very uncomfortable at his frequent hugging.
Often joining the family on picnics, Boyle molested 10-year-old Maree in the water on a beach trip holding her up at length with his hands on her genitals, all the while saying ‘Wee! Wee!’
‘And then once, when he came to the house, he put his legs wide apart, pulled me into them and then he just kept squeezing my buttocks. I had a memory of him exposing himself but I can’t give a lot of detail about it, apart from the black garment, the zipper and his penis.’
She also found it ‘very, very hard’ when directed by the nuns to enter Boyle’s confessional box.
As Maree pointed out, priests had tremendous power in those days.
‘We were brought up to respect priests. They were next to God. The dilemma I found myself in, believing that a priest couldn’t sin, I started to think it must have been me. It was there all the time.’
Although Boyle had said nobody would believe her, Maree did try to disclose her abuse in confession, sometime in the late 50s or early 60s.
‘I told the priest what had happened and he screamed at me and he said it was my fault. He blamed me. I came out of the confessional box and I remember, with just my head in my hands … I vowed that I would never, ever speak of it again.’
But in her 30s she did try to speak to another priest, just days before suffering a ‘dreadful breakdown’. The priest ‘didn’t say anything at all’, kissed her on the forehead and left her house.
‘I thought, “Well, I’m in my prison again”. That is what it was like, being in a prison.’
Multiple bouts of shock treatment and hospitalisation followed Maree’s breakdown.
‘I felt that I was in the valley of death. It was just like death.’
Maree found out later that the priest in whom she had confided, while saying nothing to her, had told her husband, at whose hands she suffered ‘domestic violence’. Years later, that same priest ‘didn’t say anything about it’ again when she broached the subject.
Maree’s mother, some years after her sister’s abuse by the same curate, went to see a priest who later became an archbishop.
But, despite him interviewing her sister, nothing happened. Maree and her sister have contacted Broken Rites and learned Boyle was known for other child sexual abuse. Never charged, he has since died.
Maree has never again tried to report her abuse to the Church, nor sought compensation through Towards Healing. However, she now wants the police to know.
What she would like from the Church is an apology – ‘to admit the sexual abuse of all little ones, what they’ve been through. I’d like them to show [they are] … sorry for what has happened and acknowledge the extent of the damage’.
Under psychiatric care for more than three decades during which medication was the main topic, Maree says she has been helped more in the past year by a ‘wonderful’ psychologist.
Maree knows the abuse ‘badly affected the marriage. I couldn’t look at my husband. And I was very nervous when I got married’ which led to her genital surgery. ‘Growing up even seeing doctors it was so traumatic for me. Males – it would just traumatise me.’
Living now with ‘very severe verbal abuse’, Maree says she’s ‘never felt I had the strength to do anything about it’ and feels guilty about never working after her breakdown and subsequent episodes of illness.
She began self-harming instead, punching herself in the head and making grotesque faces during episodes of shaking she believes is caused by anxiety.
Maree never told her parents or her children about the abuse. Nor has she discussed it with her husband, despite knowing that he knows about it. All the triggers remain just as sensitive as years ago – men with the same name as the priest, those who look like him, sexual relations.
Her sisters have ‘been wonderful’ as a support, together with a few friends. Maree’s faith has gradually gone, particularly with the ‘way I feel about priests’.
Normally ‘a very anxious person’, Maree knew that coming to the Commission would help her. ‘What you are doing is so thorough and it’s such a godsend to have it.’
Previously quite frightened at the prospect of having a private session, Maree said, ‘It’s almost a privilege to be able to come and to be heard.
‘I think that all the little ones that have gone through so much will be helped in some way by people coming forward and speaking of it. It just goes on and on, doesn’t it?’