Veronica’s mother was a devout Catholic who welcomed priests into their home and provided meals to the presbytery of the parish church in Perth. Veronica would deliver the meals to the presbytery three days a week.
When a Marist priest they barely knew invited Veronica and her mother to play cards during his visit to the family home in the 1950s, Veronica was encouraged to sit beside him.
Veronica told the Commissioner, ‘Mum was sitting on the opposite side of the table. She was excited and happy that Father McCafferty was so nice. He proceeded to put his hand onto my thigh, and I thought it was just an accident but then he proceeded to go under the elastic of my pants, and push his finger into me’.
After that, Father McCafferty continued to visit the home, but when he invited Veronica to play cards she would make up excuses like being too sick to join in.
‘My life had totally changed, the world didn’t seem to mean a lot to me because my mother wasn’t there to support me. I couldn’t tell her, the Church meant everything to her.’
Around the same time, another, younger priest she considered to be ‘like an older brother’, touched her inappropriately on several occasions.
‘Mum told me Father Royce wanted me at the school next to the church to play the organ, so I went up. The little school was all closed up, but he took me in and I sat down to play. He stood behind me, started to get really close to me then he pushed himself into me and grabbed my breasts.’
Veronica recalled Father Royce molesting her another time when a group of parishioners had gathered at her family home to watch movies.
‘I went into the kitchen to get some food and he was in there. He grabbed me and pulled me into him, and as he did, my father walked in the door and just glared at Father Royce.’
In the 2010s, Veronica contacted Broken Rites for support and advice, and was encouraged to see a lawyer who, she said, advised it wouldn’t be worth the effort to take her matter to court.
About a month later and with the help of Broken Rites, Veronica wrote an account of the childhood sexual abuse, and sent it to Towards Healing.
‘A man called Bob from Towards Healing came and saw me. He was distraught about how much work he had, and told me his sister had been abused. It was most unprofessional, I almost felt like his counsellor.’
Veronica agreed to write her story down for a second time, but was disappointed with the response from Towards Healing.
‘Bob sent my statement back and had added details which weren’t correct, and at the bottom I had to sign a privacy statement. I got fed up and thought I’m not having anything more to do with Towards Healing, the process was just so cold and unprofessional.’
Veronica told the Commissioner that after she married, it was years before she would allow her husband to touch her. After her husband died, Veronica had an eight-year relationship with a woman.
‘When that relationship broke up I had counselling. Sometimes I think with Father McCafferty it only happened once, but then I think no, it’s far more important than that because it does something to you for the rest of your life in regard to trust. What happened to me shouldn’t have happened.’
Veronica feels disillusioned with the Church and stopped attending after the abuse.
‘It doesn’t just take a child’s feeling of sexuality away, it takes your whole belief in Jesus, and where do you go after death? As long as I can keep distracting myself I can cope, it’s when the distraction stops that I think I want to do something about it.’