At first Tonya ‘worshipped’ Father Mortimer, a relief priest at her Catholic church in regional Tasmania, which was right next to the school she attended. He would sometimes come and play with the kids in the playground, and ‘I thought he was just wonderful’.
It was the early 1980s and Tonya was 12 when Father Mortimer first sexually assaulted her in the church sacristy. After that it happened many times. He would come up behind her and touch her breasts, pull down her pants and digitally penetrate her – and also used his rosary beads to abuse her.
Mortimer would often abuse Tonya and other children in groups, including making them touch each other. She still sees some of the people involved around her local area, but can’t talk to them about it.
She told the Commissioner she became a ‘moody and aggressive person’ as she grew up. Although she refused to go to a Catholic high school, she would not tell her parents why.
This abuse impacted on her academic achievement, and later affected her ability to parent her children. She suffers chronic, severe depression, and is supported by a counsellor and her GP. Her husband acts as her full-time carer (‘he gets down because he likes to work’), and she receives the disability pension.
In her late 30s Tonya disclosed the abuse to her parents and her health professionals, and her mother contacted a Catholic counselling service on her behalf. Even though Tonya had said she did not want anything to do with the Church, the service organised for her to meet with a counsellor, and for a nun who worked for Towards Healing to be present.
This nun wrote a statement based on this meeting – ‘her version of what I’d said’ – and expected Tonya to sign it. Tonya was very angry about this process and told the counsellor, ‘I’m not here for money, I’m here to get well’.
After this she ceased any contact with the counsellor and Towards Healing, as she did not feel she could trust them. She intends to seek additional legal advice about her compensation options.
Tonya has not reported Mortimer to police, but the nun from Towards Healing said she would inform them of this matter. Mortimer is now deceased.