‘It shouldn’t have happened. My parents should have been there. He shouldn’t have done it. He shouldn’t have been able to do it. And I’m so glad that these days in Catholic schools priests aren’t that revered.’
Taila’s biological father died in the early 1970s when she was two years old. Her mother re-partnered with a man who was extremely violent, and her life became filled with family violence fuelled by alcohol.
‘I wasn’t Catholic until he came into my life and then he had me baptised Catholic because he was Catholic.’
Taila attended the local Brisbane Catholic primary school which was run by Nazarene nuns.
‘When I was seven, I got in trouble for shoplifting. I shoplifted a book from a newsagents. The person who owned the newsagents, instead of calling my parents, called the school and I think, that’s where it started. Because then the priest, Father Samuel, got me out of class.’
Father Samuel took her to the nearby church and made her perform oral sex on him and then fondled her. Taila was abused for over a year by the priest, who threatened her to keep her quiet.
‘[He said], “If you tell anybody your mum and dad aren’t going to go to heaven”. Like to a little kid … it’s going to be your fault, you’re responsible.’
The abuse ended when she left the Catholic school and transferred to a government school.
The priest was placed on a pedestal by the nuns, the school and the community, and Taila felt she couldn’t report her abuse to school authorities or directly to her parents.
‘Being in a Catholic primary school back then, the priest was the closest thing to God … The priest is God, he is God’s messenger so he is God on earth to a little kid. So, if he came in and said “I need helpers to do this”, everybody puts their hand up and goes, “Pick me, pick me”.’
The nuns knew Taila was experiencing physical abuse in her home, although they did nothing about it, and she feels that this ‘made me vulnerable … he knew some of my family history’. The priest was also known to her parents and came to dinner at her house a number of times, grooming the whole family.
Taila has attempted to track the priest down in the years since, contacting the school when she was ‘an angry teenager’ hoping to find out where the priest was so she could ‘kill him’. Then, when she was about 24 years old, Taila rang the school again looking for him because ‘I just wanted to say to him, “You don’t win”’.
Neither time was she provided with reliable information about the man.
‘I lost my faith for a long time … got into drugs, got into crime. NSW Drug Court, the best thing [that] ever happened. Drug Court saved my life … I’m a survivor, I’m not going to let him win.’
Taila did tell a friend about the abuse when she was 14 years old and her husband and children know aspects of her experience. She has also tried to tell her mother.
‘I tried telling my mum again about 10 years ago but she doesn’t – she’s just in that headspace where it just doesn’t happen.’
She is now estranged from both her parents. With her own children Taila is ‘extra-vigilant’.
‘I’m a bit of a helicopter parent with my kids, especially at school.’
She feels as though the abuse ‘shouldn’t affect me’ but anger has been a real challenge for her.
‘I’m an extremely angry person. I’m extremely volatile.’
Taila wants to pursue the priest with the help of police and is planning to apply for compensation from the Catholic Church. She carries immense guilt though, because she hasn’t spoken out until now.
‘I’ve always thought over the years that I should’ve gone to the police because maybe I could have stopped him earlier … if he has done it to other little kids. I will be horrified to know that he’s done it to other kids when I was an adult … If he kept going and I could have stopped him 20, 30 years ago that would be devastating.
‘If he is alive and he is still active I would love to bring him to account.’