‘Mum was a very religious woman, very religious. The church was her world and we were all brought up in that world. I suppose we didn’t really have much but we had the church and that was a big outing on a Sunday too, to go to church, and make sure you’re all dressed nice and that.’
For Rosemary, growing up in a large family in Victoria in the 1960s, the church was a central part of life. She and her siblings were taught at Catholic schools, they all went to mass and parish priest Father Doyle performed marriage ceremonies for several of her siblings.
Father Doyle came to the family home one day in the mid-1960s and while sitting in the kitchen with Rosemary and her mother, suggested to eight-year-old Rosemary that she sit on his knee.
‘He’s still talking to Mum while he put his hand up my dress and then down my knickers and just felt my private area. I was just horrified. And I used to blush a lot too; I still do. I know I was bright red sitting there, and I know my mum looked at me and she must – she knew something wasn’t right, so she asked me to do something whereas that got me off his knee.
‘But in the same time he had to pull his hand out of my knickers, and with a twang, and I never did ask my mother if she heard that but she looked like she heard that and that’s when I knew not to go near him again.’
Rosemary managed to avoid Father Doyle who was a regular visitor at her primary school. On occasions he’d walk into the classroom and belt boys’ bare buttocks for no apparent reason.
After the abuse, Rosemary struggled to concentrate and this continued through her secondary schooling. Her belief in the Catholic Church also deteriorated.
‘I was already disillusioned with the men in my life and he was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was the salvation that wasn’t. He was something – he was different to what I thought he was. So I guess, trust [was] a big issue. I find it very hard to trust, especially men.’
Rosemary was also upset that the place her mother had ‘put so much of her world into just crumbled’. Her mother didn’t find out about the abuse because Rosemary ‘didn’t want to crush her world’. She did tell her father many years later and he asked why she hadn’t mentioned it sooner. ‘I said, “You wouldn’t have believed me”. It was as simple as that.’
Rosemary had become estranged from some siblings who continued to believe Father Doyle was ‘wonderful’. She told one sister about what the priest had done but not until media reports surfaced about another paedophile priest did she decide to report Doyle to Victoria Police.
‘I heard another man had reported and he was waiting for other people to come forward, so I sort of thought, well, he could do with a hand; like when I was talking to the policeman he told me. And I said, “Yes, I wanted to report it”. Like I had thought mine was pretty mild, but I’d heard some terrible stories, terrible.’
Another reason Rosemary pursued action against Doyle, she said, was because she saw in the vulnerability of her daughters something like that of her own childhood.
Within six to eight months in the late 1990s, Father Doyle had been charged with numerous child sex offences. Rosemary felt the police response and the investigation of her report was good but from court proceedings that followed she felt she ‘was the guilty one’.
Fellow priests and supporters of Doyle intimidated witnesses, including Rosemary, during the hearing and outside the court. In the end a plea bargain was struck with Doyle and he was charged with lesser offences. He was convicted and given a suspended sentence and then moved interstate where he still served some priestly duties.
At one stage Rosemary had begun participation in the Towards Healing process but when someone told her that any compensation would come from the parish in which the offence occurred, she withdrew because she didn’t want to take ‘the people’s money’.
Rosemary told the Commissioner that she believed in God, but not the Catholic Church, and she thought priests should be permitted to marry.
‘I really think that loneliness maybe, you know, plays on their mind and they go in really weird areas. I really think if – yeah, I think they should have companions and if they’re gay, then they can have a partner. Yeah, I just think people should look at their own needs as well, type of thing.
‘You know, they’ve been telling us that God probably had a partner, you know, they’ve been hiding that for a while, but I’ve heard that a couple of times now. Who knows? I just think it’s just too staunch; they just need to free up a little bit and remember, we’re only human, we’re not gods, they’re not gods, we’re just people. Like, I grew up thinking priests were gods.’