Moira grew up in a strict but close family in north-west New South Wales. It was back in the 1950s, when kids were seen and not heard and walking the four miles to church on Sundays, dressed to the nines, was routine.
Moira was shy – ‘you’d only have to look at me and I’d nearly cry’ – but she did well at her Catholic school. She remembers one Friday, when she was 11 or 12, when the head nun, Sister Doreen, picked her and her friend Anne to help Monsignor Walters clean the church.
Moira was excited because they were getting out of school for the afternoon. They finished lunch quickly, went inside the church and said good afternoon to Monsignor Walters.
‘He didn’t even acknowledge us, he just leapt up and he bolted the doors, they were bolted up top … I remember him reaching right up and slamming them … the nuns would have seen that the church was closed because they’re directly opposite. He said “come on you two, up here” and he marched us up the middle of the aisle … right up to where the confessional boxes were … and I sat on the right and he sat in the middle and Anne sat on the left.’
Walters put his arm around Moira’s shoulder and asked, ‘Are you a good little girl? … Do you do what you’re told?’
‘He started rubbing my legs … and my shoulder … then he said to sit on his knee.’
When he was alone again with Moira he told her to touch his penis through his robes. Moira didn’t understand what she was touching. She thought it was a piece of wood.
‘I sort of smiled at him. I thought he was going to have a joke. Then he said, “Put your two hands around it” and it moved. And honest to goodness, do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking, it’s a little kitten or a puppy dog or something. I’d never seen anything like an erection or anything …’
Walters then put his hands down her pants and Moira began to cry and wriggle around. Then he said, ‘“Move it up and down”. I couldn’t move it up and down because I was shaking.’
Walters got angry and called out, ‘Come up and show her what to do Annie!’ Anne ran back and started to masturbate Walters vigorously. ‘She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t crying. She wasn’t anything.’
He sent Anne away and said, ‘Now do what Annie did’. Moira started crying again. ‘I couldn’t stop from shaking. He started yelling and saying “stop crying”.’ She started doing what Anne had done.
‘Even though I didn’t know how to do that before, I sort of got the idea … and … I went blank. I did. I went blank … There was nothing there. Looking at his black robe, everything seemed to have went black.’
She heard the school bell and stopped. ‘I looked at him and said, “Father the bell’s just gone” and he said, “Keep going”.’
Moira began crying again, panicked. ‘Sister will walk in here and see me doing bad things and my bag’s over there and I’ve got to get my shoes and oh dear oh dear I was in a pickle!’
Walters then dragged Moira by the back of the neck through the vestry. He pushed her onto the concrete steps where Moira tripped and fell, bloodying her hands and knees and ripping her stockings. Walters told her to not to move until he said so. ‘And if you say anything to anybody I’ll get you sent away.’
He then went back inside the church. ‘I thought, Anne’s inside. What’s he doing to her now?’ Then Moira saw the school bus in the distance. ‘I bolted. I ran flat out like goodness knows what. No bag, no shoes on, no stockings.’
No one asked Moira what had happened. She crept around the side of her house to avoid being seen.
The next Monday Moira found her shoes in the presbytery rubbish bin. Her bag and hat were in a cupboard behind Sister Doreen’s desk. Moira is sure that Sister Doreen set the girls up to be abused by Walters.
Moira never talked to Anne about the abuse and she didn’t tell the police.
‘Good heavens no! I couldn’t even tell my mother and father. They’d say, “You wicked girl saying that about that lovely priest!”’
Moira had been an excellent student but after the abuse she struggled to concentrate. ‘I couldn’t learn … It was like I had brain damage.’
She hated school, hated church and hated going to confession. She left school after she turned 13.
Moira always blamed feeling not quite normal on the nuns’ harsh treatment. But a few years ago, she heard Cardinal Pell on TV denying child abuse allegations and everything exploded.
‘I’m peeling vegetables at the sink and I heard him say, “You know little kids, how much they exaggerate”. I still had the knife in my hand and I walked up and … I was going to put the knife through his mouth into the TV ... I’ll never forget his voice … but I couldn’t hear what he was saying because everything was just … it was like a tape was going. It was showing me Anne running up the stairs … And that’s what brought it all together ... And I wake up in the night and it keeps going and going and going.’
Moira started drinking. She also rang Lifeline. She feels she had to bypass a lot of things in her life because of the abuse and it makes her sad.
Years later Moira learned that her friend Anne had struggled with life and had been in and out of mental institutions. Moira said she’d come to her private session at the Commission for Anne as well as for herself, and is currently exploring her options for compensation.
‘I don’t want to be on my deathbed and thinking, “Oh why didn’t I do something about that?”’