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Victoria's story

After leaving school in the 1960s at 15, Victoria found various jobs around her New South Wales town and started helping out in the Young Catholic Workers Association office. There she met the district’s chaplain, Father Sean Mahoney.

Victoria spent a lot of time with Mahoney organising meetings and the priest often visited her at home, where he was especially welcomed by Victoria’s mother, a devout Catholic.

‘He would drive groups of us home from meetings’, Victoria said. ‘And I guess I got chosen to be the last one dropped off, so it occurred in his car the first time. I know it was after March because I used to get the mail for the bank and the day after the incident he met me at the post office by chance just to ask if I was okay …

‘Then there were various other times. He befriended the family and would come for dinner. There’d be social occasions where he’d invite me out with other groups of people, and other youth group get-togethers, that sort of thing. I don’t know how many times it occurred. I can’t remember. I know his car, on a beach and in his bedroom in the presbytery where he smuggled me up one day.’

Around this time, Victoria was considering entering the convent and, in discussions with Sister Therese, a nun from the Presentation Order, disclosed what was happening with Father Mahoney. Sister Therese organised a meeting between Victoria and a senior priest, Father Crane. At the meeting Crane told Victoria that the abuse was her fault.

‘[He said] I was committing a sin of sacrilege’, Victoria said. ‘I can recall him asking did I know what that meant. I said, “Not really”. I mean, I know that if you’ve got a statue of something and you desecrate it, that’s sacrilege. But he explained that Father Mahoney was a blessed priest so I was desecrating him. Or committing sacrilege. Anyway, I don’t know. And he gave me a stern talking to of course and heard my confession and said that Father Mahoney would be dealt with, spoken to sternly. I do know that he was called to the bishop’s house. What occurred, I don’t know.’

Victoria entered the convent, but after a year began to have doubts about whether she wanted to be a nun. She rang Mahoney for advice and he met with her and expressed his disappointment that she was going to leave. ‘And that was about it’, Victoria said. She moved out of town and had no further contact with him.

After she left the novitiate, Victoria met a man who asked her to marry him. She sought the counsel of Sister Therese again, this time to ask the nun’s opinion on whether her future husband would know she wasn’t a virgin. Sister Therese ‘did some digging with some Catholic women she knew’, and returned to tell Victoria she needed to let her husband know.

Victoria said she buried memories of the abuse as she brought up her children. She didn’t tell her husband, but in the 2000s she saw in the news that visiting Pope Benedict XVI refused to meet with parents of children who’d been abused by clergy and she sent off an angry email to the bishop detailing the story of her own abuse by Mahoney decades earlier. The email reply from the bishop’s office suggested she see a counsellor.

‘[The email] might have gone on longer than that, but that’s what it was. And offered a couple of suggestions of counsellors, which made me a little bit more cross than I was before. But once again I sort of buried it and let it go because I didn’t know what else I should do.’

The next person Victoria told was her son when she ‘had a few drinks and blabbed’. He was supportive and suggested she contact the Royal Commission. Until recently, she said, she’d felt alone with the knowledge of what had happened to her.

‘At the time I thought I was an isolated incident’, she said. ‘I didn’t imagine that that sort of thing went on at all, so I just probably thought this guy’s going through a bad time. I don’t know what I thought to be honest. Certainly that it would have been an isolated incident, that there wouldn’t have been hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people out there with all different abuse – I know there are worse than me. It’s just disgusting.’

She maintained her faith, but it was now changed. ‘I still feel very Catholic but I don’t go to mass every week, in fact rarely. I like the feeling of going. I like to just go into a church and be quiet by myself. When the priest gets up there, I look at him and I think, yeah right. It’s a bit off-putting.’

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