Poppy was born in the early 1950s into a devout Catholic family, and grew up with her parents and siblings in regional Queensland. She was a quiet child, and attended the local Catholic primary school.
Father Bedford, who was a Marist priest in the parish, sexually abused Poppy, including fondling her breasts. This abuse happened at the presbytery, which was situated right next to the school.
Poppy did not disclose the abuse to anyone at the time. However, she thinks the nuns at the school may have had suspicions about Father Bedford. ‘I know they used to say don’t go near the priests at lunchtime. And we used to get the cane if we were over in that area. So they must have known what was going on.’
Around a decade ago, Poppy reconnected with a number of girls from the school. She learned that Bedford had also sexually assaulted them, and that in many cases this abuse included digital penetration. She felt angry that she had not been able to protect her friends from him.
Poppy contacted the Marist Fathers provincial to advise him that Father Bedford was a paedophile. During their conversation the provincial acknowledged that in recent years he had become aware of the priest’s sexual abuse of children.
A local community facility had been named after Bedford, and Poppy argued for it to be renamed. Although she was successful, the reason for the change of name was not disclosed publically – in fact, an alternative explanation was provided.
This cover-up angered Poppy, as having the facility renamed was something she had wanted to do for her friends. She spoke to the provincial to express her anger about this, but Bedford’s sexual offending was still not publically acknowledged.
Poppy has not reported her own sexual abuse to police, nor sought compensation. She is aware that one of her friends, who was abused by Bedford for many years, has received a financial payment from the Church.
Despite these experiences, Poppy maintains an ongoing attachment to the parish, and recognises the good that faith-based organisations can do. Her own children attended the same school, but this did not concern her, as there were no longer many priests or other religious workers there.
In later years Poppy attained a welfare qualification, and in the course of her work deals with children who have been abused. She is very aware that even when kids come into care after experiencing abuse there are often no resources for them to access counselling or psychological support.
‘It doesn’t happen, it escapes the system. There’s no money for it – who’s going to pay for it? You know, you find a young child’s been sexually abused ... Even if they’re brought into care, there’s no law out there to say that child must receive counselling. Flat out getting carers, let alone follow up with the proper counselling. They probably need psychiatrists, not just an ordinary everyday counsellor ... There should be money made available, and that child needs to go and have the proper counselling. Not when they’re 50.’