After World War II, Maryann’s parents moved to government housing in Victoria to raise their family. Maryann described growing up in a household where most activities revolved around the Catholic Church.
‘The parish priest would come to our house and do the rosary once a week. We would all go off to Mass at six o’clock every morning. We were very controlled. We weren’t allowed to read comic books. I remember trying to read DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and I used to read it in my bed with a torch under the sheet and hide the book under another book. So we were extremely controlled in who we mixed with, what we read. It was very different to life now.’
Doing well academically, Maryann was fast-tracked through high school and in the mid-1960s matriculated when she’d just turned 15. In her final year of school she was involved in numerous Church and student activities, and was a member of a Christian youth association where she met her mentor, Father Gerard Dawkins. He was ‘highly charismatic’ and had ‘this amazing voice, very articulate. Everybody loved him.’
Maryann told the Commissioner that she met Dawkins in an office in Melbourne numerous times to organise events related to the youth group and on these occasions Dawkins sexually abused her. He was her pastoral guide and she ‘was very innocent and very naive’. Over time Maryann came to think of Dawkins as ‘like a boyfriend’.
Dawkins was then aged in his 40s and Maryann said they had developed a close intellectual relationship and that he’d probably picked up that she wasn’t very happy at home. When Maryann told her mother what was happening with Dawkins, she ‘got a smack’.
‘She told me that I was a naughty girl and that I shouldn’t say such things, and that Father Gerard, he was like a family friend, and he would never do anything to hurt me, and that I had to keep going to meet him, that this was very important, you know, [if I didn’t go] it was like shame on the family.’
Maryann said her mother’s response wasn’t really a surprise to her. ‘How could I say such things about a lovely man who’s really God on this earth. It says a lot about God, doesn’t it?’
About five years after the abuse, Maryann wanted to discuss a paper she was writing about the Catholic Church and rang Dawkins to arrange a meeting. She hadn’t yet thought about their encounters as abuse, but looking back thought he probably did.
‘I didn’t realise it was a crime until about 10 years ago, and I’m not that silly. I just thought he was a naughty priest who shouldn’t have done what he did.’
Maryann said Dawkins was reluctant to see her and when they met, wanted the meeting to be over quickly. She wanted to tell him why she was no longer a Catholic, but ‘he really wanted me to go’.
In the early 1970s, Maryann was speaking to another former member of the youth group and asked about Dawkins. There’d been some publicity about abuse in the Catholic Church and the woman asked Maryann why she wanted to know about Dawkins. ‘She said, “I think I know what this is about. You should be very careful”.’ The woman told Maryann that Dawkins was a friend of her father’s and that she should ‘behave’.
Maryann told the Commissioner that only in recent years had she acknowledged the effect the abuse had on her life. After studying, she’d forged a career and travelled widely throughout the world as part of her job.
‘I think the biggest consequence is that I’ve been able to compartmentalise the abuse.’ While she’d had an interesting professional life and been a good mother to her son, there were ‘bits I’ve closed the door on’, including interpersonal relationships.
‘I didn’t have the skill set or resources to trust people in intimate relationships, so I don’t do that anymore. So that’s the trade-off. As soon as I get within a whisper of it, I shut it.’
In preventing child sexual abuse and keeping children safe, Maryann suggested a coordinated approach from individual, societal and institutional perspectives. She noted the success of Australian public education campaigns and thought these principles could be applied to inform people about the nature and scope of child sexual abuse.
Maryann believes that changes to legislation are required, to ensure the consequences of offending behaviour are consistent and meaningful.
When she’d realised the abuse was a crime, Maryann became very angry. ‘Not only that what happened to me was a crime and that he gets off and maybe continues to do this to other people, but that the institution is like a protection racket. And the institution covers up and denies and calls it a sickness or calls it …
‘The problem is this celibacy, and maybe they should marry. They deconstruct it in a way that is really hard for people like me that have all of a sudden realised it’s a crime. And then there’s this whole conspiracy of denial. It would help if the institutions agreed that they were crimes and that they actually did something on a regulatory, legislative level that brought these people to some sort of justice.’