The parish priest in regional Tasmania would visit Wanda’s family home often, and she recalled being about 10 years old in the late 1960s when Father Walker started taking her and her two older siblings away for weekend trips. ‘We’d go bushwalking or swimming, the typical grooming stuff. I subsequently learnt my parents didn’t trust or even like him, but being devout Catholics, they didn’t feel able to go against his ways.’
Wanda joined the church youth group at 14, and believed at the time Father Walker was singling her out for sexual abuse.
‘It took place at the presbytery, and sometimes on trips away. He’d keep me in the car sometimes for an hour after youth group, and my parents used to worry and question him on it, and he’d kind of bully them and say, “I’m the priest, what are you worried about?” His words to me were, “Trust me, Wanda”.’
Even after Father Walker moved away to a remote parish, he continued to maintain regular contact with Wanda and her family.
‘He was actually moved because people were objecting to his behaviour, but he continued abusing me for several more years. I was a nervous, shy girl, and he made me feel like I was the problem, and being young and vulnerable, I couldn’t shake it off. I was just ashamed of it, and couldn’t tell anyone.’
Wanda told the Commissioner her spirit was broken and that she came to accept the abuse. She felt unable to tell anyone what was happening and became socially isolated.
The abuse only stopped when Wanda wanted to marry at 26.
‘I think he just knew he couldn’t get away with it any more. He was at the wedding, at the altar, and performed our wedding with another priest which is a shocking thing to deal with. He tried to make contact again when our children were quite young.’
When her daughter was about to turn 14, Wanda felt forced to confront the demons of her past. By then she was in her 40s.
‘I was my daughter’s age when the abuse had seriously started, and I couldn’t keep it hidden anymore.
'It was just screaming at me. I found myself crying every morning and at that stage I told my husband.’
With the support of her husband and counselling, Wanda began the journey of ‘bringing myself back together’. She reported the abuse to police, and Father Walker was charged and convicted after pleading guilty.
Around that time, Wanda contacted Towards Healing. She described the process as ‘disgusting’.
‘Two nuns came to our house and asked why we went to police, sort of told us off about that. I asked if they could pay for counselling and they told me there was no money for that, no compensation, they were on the offensive and kept referring to Father Walker by his first name, as if he was a friend. It felt like they were trying to put the blame on me.’
After contacting the archbishop several times over the course of a year, Wanda received an offer of $25,000 in return for signing a confidentiality agreement. She accepted.
Years later, Wanda was contacted by the archbishop who advised he was dealing with further complaints about Father Walker, as well as several other priests. ‘He basically apologised for handling things badly with my complaint, but Walker’s always said he was badly advised by his lawyers to plead guilty and show no remorse, doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. I believe there are a lot of good people in the Church, but the hierarchy is corrupted. The Church needs to be cleaned out.’