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Veronique's story

Veronique grew up in the 1970s in a small town in Tasmania. Her family were committed Catholics. The parish priest was a regular visitor to their home. And when he was away, the relieving priest, Father Brennan, was also warmly welcomed.

Veronique’s grandfather had recently died, leaving a gap in family life that Father Brennan was happy to fill. He was especially attentive to Veronique, the youngest in the family, then about six years old.

Veronique’s mother Pat came with her to the Royal Commission. ‘I thought how good it was’, she explained, ‘that Father Brennan was taking an interest in Veronique, sort of filling the grandfather role, you know. He was okay with that. He played the role very well.’

It didn’t occur to Pat to question his behaviour, or his motives. She’d been brought up believing that priests and nuns were like saints.

‘It was drummed into us pretty well … The priests and the nuns were saints and they can’t get it wrong. And I was dopey. I believed that in a lot of ways.'

Father Brennan began sexually assaulting Veronique when she was in Grade 1. The abuse continued until she was about 10, in Grade 5. It happened on walks he took her on, and elsewhere, including the presbytery and the sacristy.

‘The funny thing is, not once did he ever tell me not to tell anyone. He never said that to me’, Veronique told the Commissioner. She now sees that as a sign of his arrogance.

She and Pat have always been close, she said. ‘The only reason I didn’t tell her is because I was so embarrassed. It’s not that I couldn’t.’

For one of his visits to the parish, Father Brennan organised to stay with Veronique’s family. ‘I thought it was good for him to be there; such a friend to Veronique’, Pat said. In the weeks before he was due to arrive she noticed a change in Veronique. Her teachers noticed it too. ‘There was something not right.’ The change was even more noticeable when Brennan arrived to stay. ‘I was wary. I knew something was up, and I didn’t know what’, Pat said.

After Brennan left, Pat asked Veronique if he’d ever done anything to her. ‘She said no.’ Not long afterwards, Veronique disclosed the truth. Pat recalled: ‘I got to school, and she said “Father B did, Mum, but I’ll tell you tonight”. I said okay, made it as light as I could. Oh, that day was a long day. Then she came out with it.’

That evening Pat called the Dean responsible for the priests in the parish. She told him what had happened and asked for immediate action. A series of disappointments followed. The Dean spoke to Father Brennan before talking to the family. When Brennan and the Dean met with Pat, the Dean didn’t contribute and Brennan was given the opportunity to make excuses.

‘All he says was “I didn’t do anything” and “It wasn’t flesh upon flesh”; it wasn’t this and that’, Pat said. ‘For the record, he did do flesh on flesh’, said Veronique.

A short while later the Dean contacted Pat. ‘[He] said you don’t have to worry about Father Brennan anymore because he’s not allowed to say mass in Tasmania again.’ She told him she was concerned about the harm Brennan might do to other kids. ‘But he seemed to brush that aside. He wasn’t interested in that.’

The Church in Tasmania took no further steps against Brennan, who did go on to sexually assault other children. He died in the early 1980s.

Veronique has never fully disclosed her experiences to anyone except Pat. She has had counselling in relation to other issues in her life but not Brennan’s abuse.

‘I never went to counselling, so aside from Mum and I chatting – every now and then we’d chat about Father Brennan but I’ve never till today said what happened, since I told Mum. So we were just saying, perhaps I should have.’

‘I blame myself for that’, Pat said. ‘When all this happened, and Veronique told me that he had interfered with her, to put Veronique at her rest I said, “Well, that’s okay”. I said, “Leave it to me and I’ll fix it”. And then I got onto the Dean and whatnot … I thought I could handle Veronique okay … I didn’t, but I thought I had.’

Veronique thinks she is mostly fine but recognises triggers that recall the distress of her childhood experiences. Being in the sacristy at church is one. She has letters Brennan sent her that she can’t touch. ‘I couldn’t touch what he’d touched. It’s like I can still smell his scent’, she said. ‘I don’t let my husband kiss my neck. No one can kiss me on the back of my neck. Because that’s what he used to do.’

She recently realised her 11-year-old daughter is the age she was when she disclosed the abuse to Pat. ‘Look at how little she is. How little was I when this thing started? It just made me feel sick.’

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