Sammie's story

‘If you are raised in a community and something goes wrong with one part of that community you look to other people within that community. Your first instinct isn’t necessarily to go to the police or to come to a Royal Commission.’

Sammie’s family was heavily involved in the Catholic Church in their regional Queensland town in the 1980s. Her parents assisted with the running of services and participated in the church choir and other activities. Sammie describes her father as a man who put his whole life in the hands of the Church. The family attended church and confession every Sunday. Sammie went to the Catholic primary school which was in the church grounds.

Sammie was sexually assaulted by her parish priest, Father Nicholas Morrow, when she was 12 years old. She described a period of grooming where she was approached by Father Morrow to do ‘special activities’ with him. When they were alone his behaviour changed, and he started suddenly to sweat, shake and pant. This frightened Sammie.

Sammie was made to kiss his face, penis and testicles. During the abuse Sammie would cry. When she objected, Morrow told her that her family would go to hell and the fires would burn them, and that this would be God’s will if she didn’t do as she was told. The abuse occurred many times, including on special occasions such as her confirmation.

One Sunday close to Christmas that year Sammie’s mother was unable to find her after mass. Someone told her they had seen Sammie go into the presbytery with Father Morrow. One of the ladies took her mother aside and told her to urgently go and get her as it wasn’t safe to be with Morrow alone. ‘I can remember, because I was in the presbytery, I can remember hearing her screaming my name and banging on the walls.’

‘He always used to give you a present to thank you for what you had done. She watched him give me this purse – and she knew … that something was wrong.’ At this time Sammie was able to tell her mother only the barest details of the abuse she had suffered.

Sammie’s mother returned to the presbytery to see Father John Upton (who was senior to Morrow). She told him what Father Morrow had done. Father Upton said he was aware there was a problem but that ‘you can’t make someone go to counselling’. He said he did his best to keep an eye on Morrow but on this occasion he had been away when the incident took place. He then minimised the seriousness and likely impact of the abuse. Sammie’s mother was told the Bishop had plans to move Father Morrow. The priest was shifted to a new parish shortly after that.

‘The other parents believed this beloved priest had been moved because of my mum. They couldn’t commit retribution against my mum so they did against me.’ Sammie was bullied at school. ‘School was sheer hell. I had dirty tampons put in my locker, rubbed in my books, physical abuse. They just went to town.’ Sammie believes teachers condoned the bullying and joined in.

Sammie’s family stopped attending the church. ‘Our whole world was in that community, and then they were ostracized … When I was 18 and [Dad] found out there was actually more to it than he’d been led to believe, he left the church and never ever went back.’

‘My Dad died feeling like he’d failed me.’

Sammie’s parents noticed behavioural changes in their daughter in her mid to late teens. She became sexually active and began to drink heavily. Sammie felt ‘rudderless’ after leaving the Church and her university studies suffered. She had a psychological breakdown and her first marriage failed. There were periods of extreme depression and Sammie experienced seizures.

She still struggles to develop friendships and also finds it difficult to trust her responses to certain situations, which affects these relationships. For periods she has isolated herself completely, and has had extremes in weight gain and loss.

‘I hid this for 32 years. Nobody would’ve known. My parents knew about it and my brother and that was it … I was very “strong”.’ Later in life Sammie met and married Rory, who is very supportive. Sammie describes theirs as a healthy relationship that has had a positive effect on her as she works through the problems caused by her abuse.

In recent years Sammie has complained to the Catholic Church and been through a mediation process but is uncomfortable about the way the mediation took place. When the solicitor for the Church spoke she found his comments insensitive and offensive. Sammie doubted the impartiality of the mediator and particularly hated having to quantify the effects of the abuse on her over the years.

‘I would’ve felt like a prostitute if they had awarded me money for what was done to me. I wasn’t going there because of that. I wanted them to be accountable as an institution for not helping me.’

‘They did nothing but make it worse every time I tried to approach them.’

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