Vivian's story

‘Even when I was a kid, I knew I was weak. Because he picked on me, and not the other two altar girls ... Why me, and not the other two? Because they were taller and more assertive, and so that’s how I saw myself. I think that’s the damage that he did to me.’

Vivian’s mother was a strict Irish Catholic, and the family regularly attended church in suburban Perth. She went to the adjacent school too: ‘Catholic school, Catholic friends. We didn’t know anything different. We were just only exposed to the Catholic way of living’.

From an early age, Vivian was aware that something bad was happening to children from the school. She had heard kids say ‘don’t go back to the presbytery unless you have to’, but nobody ever said why. ‘You didn’t know anything in those days. You didn’t even know what sex was when you were little kids. You just knew there was stuff going on.’

It was the late 1960s and the parish priest, Father McDonald, had decided that girls could serve on the altar. Vivian was a physically small child, lacking in confidence, who believed deeply in God. Although eight years of age, ‘I was like a five year old ... I was really, really little’.

Vivian nominated herself as an altar girl, along with a cousin and a friend, both of whom she recalls being far more confident than herself. When the three of them helped McDonald prepare for mass, ‘he would get rid of the other two, and then he’d say, come back for a drink, like Fanta or something. You couldn’t really say no. So you would go back’.

McDonald would then take Vivian to the presbytery, and sexually abuse her. She also saw him watching other girls as they took showers there, which they did at his request.

‘I remember him getting rid of them, and then going on to me ... It’s not until you actually stop and think, “Oh, this was all orchestrated”.’ Vivian believes his chose his victims carefully. ‘I think he knew the kids that were powerless ... because he didn’t do it to everyone.’

One time, McDonald called Vivian’s mother to ask if Vivian could help him move some furniture. Vivian now recognises this request to be somewhat unusual, given that a young, slight girl would not have been suited to such a task. Although she objected, she was made to go to the presbytery regardless, and was sexually abused again.

McDonald was involved in the building of a local pool. ‘And he just used to parade up and down the swimming pool, just perving, for hours and hours.’ Vivian thinks other people realised McDonald’s behaviour was ‘a bit creepy, but in those days no one would say he’s doing anything wrong’.

He would take Vivian back to the presbytery from the pool, ‘and once again, I couldn’t say no’. There, he would sit her on his lap, and stick his hands underneath her swimming costume.

This abuse continued for three years. The whole time, ‘he wasn’t even nice to me. He wasn’t nice to me ever’. After he did ‘what he wanted to do ... He’d just kick you out the door, he would just say, go home’.

Eventually, some of the other girls abused by McDonald reported him. He was moved from the parish, and died a few years later. Vivian never disclosed to her mother that she had been abused by him too, and her mother never asked.

At the time McDonald was abusing girls, Vivian was aware of a layperson sexually abusing boys at the school. The man was well-respected in the community, but suicided after this abuse was reported to police. She later found out her own brother was one of his victims.

Vivian stopped attending church when she was 20 years old – ‘I have no time for religion at all’. She now sees that the abuse changed her as a young person. ‘It takes a lot of courage to admit that it did. Because for all my life, I thought ... It didn’t affect me with men in any way, which is good. It didn’t affect relationships or anything but it affected [my] confidence.’

In some ways, Vivian sees herself as fortunate. ‘I always thought that I got off lucky’, because ‘there was no penis penetration’. ‘I guess all these years, you just sort of, in a way you’re dismissive, because you think, “Well, you weren’t raped”. That’s sort of like a coping mechanism.’

She made sure to teach her own children protective behaviours. ‘My daughter wouldn’t let a man touch her with a 10-foot pole.’ Even so, when her daughter asked to be an altar girl, she was vehemently opposed.

‘Well, that was it. That opened a can of worms ... I started shaking – you’re not being an altar girl, over my dead body are you being an altar girl.’

This incident brought back a lot of memories for Vivian, and led to her telling her siblings about what McDonald had done to her. ‘They were pretty shocked’.

She was inspired to share her story with the Royal Commission after seeing the movie Spotlight, about clerical abuse in America. At the end of the film, ‘they’ve got countries around the world, where abuse has happened. And Perth came up ... That was a bit of a moment, I thought, well that’s me. So I thought, oh, I have to – I just thought, I’m a statistic, so I have to do the right thing’.

Vivian has never had any counselling about the abuse, and told the Commission, ‘I’m a positive person, I’m a forward-looking person. And I don’t plan on talking about this with anyone again’.

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