In the mid-1960s Patsy and a group of female friends attended a ‘younger set dance’ held by a Catholic youth group in her regional New South Wales town. Despite being 16 years old the girls were ‘extremely innocent ... I don’t think I was even really clear about how you got pregnant, that’s how innocent we were ... we were very good girls’.
The dance was heavily supervised by chaperones from the church, who made sure the attendees did not get too close. Father George was the diocesan priest and the group’s chaplain too, and accompanied them to a nearby cafe after the dance. Patsy was wondering how she would get home, so Father George suggested he drive her.
Patsy accepted, feeling it was very special to be offered a ride by a priest. On the way he drove them to the presbytery, saying he wanted to show her the ‘lovely old building’, although she did not want to stop there.
Convincing her to go inside, he showed Patsy around, telling her how beautiful she was. This made her very uncomfortable. Before she realised what was happening, Father George came up to her and grabbed her shoulders, saying she should kiss him the way she kissed the boys. ‘I started to cry and said no, I didn’t want to ... I couldn’t believe a priest was asking me to kiss him. At the time I was feeling panic stricken but unable to retaliate or pull away. He was the priest! I was powerless.’
Patsy was terrified – the priest was her father’s age and stronger than her. ‘I thought, well, if I just give him a quick little kiss then I can go ... And so I went to give him this quick little kiss ... Anyway he grabbed me, was holding me really tight, and you know, rubbing his hands up and down my back etc, then his tongue went in my mouth ... I just couldn’t believe his tongue was in my mouth.’
He didn’t stop kissing her until she started crying. ‘His tongue was in my mouth and I wanted to vomit. It was horrific. I had tears running down my face.’
Father George then tried to persuade Patsy to go into a bedroom, but she refused. ‘I’m a strong person. And somehow at that moment that strength that’s in me kicked in.’
Later she learned the priest had raped another girl some years after this, and was even more grateful she had held her ground. ‘I thank the Lord that I was strong enough not to proceed to the bedroom with him, and that that’s all he did to me. And when I say ‘all’, I realised later just how damaging that was to me.’
Patsy walked to the front door and kept asking him to take her home. ‘He changed his demeanour and agreed to leave’, but his anger made her feel like a failure.
When he took her home she could not stop crying. ‘I felt defiled, violated and dirty. I felt sinful. I felt betrayed. I felt humiliated and ashamed. I felt very, very down and upset. I felt not beautiful but ugly ... I also felt guilt, which is just ridiculous you know, I felt guilt ... I’ve kissed a priest. So it had those different facets of feelings.’
She feared that she would not be believed if she spoke about the abuse. ‘I couldn’t tell anyone, particularly my parents. I was so ashamed. He was the priest ... I just buried the hurt and shame deep inside me.’
Her marks at school dropped after this incident, she experienced depression and anxiety, and later had trouble dealing with people in authority at work. It took her many years to realise how angry she was, ‘not necessarily with God’ but with the Church as an institution. At one stage she mentioned the abuse during confession, but the priest asked, ‘What did you do to make him do this?’
Patsy next disclosed the abuse in the early 2000s at a school reunion. One of her friend’s sons had been the victim of clerical child sexual abuse, and upon learning this she was able to speak about her experience with Father George. ‘They were all stunned and shocked. I then told my sister, who also knew him. And she was horrified and said she wasn’t surprised as he was always fresh [and] over-attentive.’
She attended a prayer ministry and ‘wept and wept’ as others prayed for her. ‘I was released from the lust and could sense the snake coming out of my mouth.’
One of the guests at the reunion worked for the diocese, and informed them on her behalf. Patsy told the Commissioner that the Towards Healing representative she dealt with, coincidentally a priest she had known at the time of the abuse, had been very supportive.
A lawyer she knew suggested that sometimes, as part of the process, ‘people like to do something, like they like to meet with the person or something’. At first Patsy couldn’t think of anything as Father George was deceased, but then she decided she wanted to visit his grave with the priest from Towards Healing.
At the cemetery she told Father George that what he had done was wrong, and that he had no right to do it, and how it had impacted on her. She had written out a list of negative emotions she felt for him and burned this on the site, and received the sacrament of healing. ‘I guess I was an emotional wreck but I was very pleased I had done this. It gave it finality.’
Realising that the actions of the priest had impacted heavily on her faith and relationship to God, she came to understand the impact it had on her marriage too, ‘and that I had dreaded sex all our married life’.
‘After 40 years of marriage I now realised this – it had been a blockage to a true, loving relationship with my husband. I always knew that there was a blockage to allowing my husband to truly love me and to be vulnerable to this love. I didn’t know why or what this blockage was. Now I know – it was the sexual abuse of Father George ... I’m working through this. I trust in God that he can heal me in this area as well.’