They rattle off words like ‘rape’ and ‘molestation’ but they don’t really understand it. If they did, they’d do something about it.
My husband, John, and I have four boys, Daniel, Luke, Dominic and Bernard. We raised them on a 25-acre property 40 minutes from Newcastle, NSW, and led a happy life with a strong Catholic faith.
The boys were 11, 10, seven and three when Father James Fletcher arrived in our parish.
He didn’t seem very smart and his homilies were shallow, but he took an interest in the children and we were pleased to have a priest who learnt their names and asked them about cricket and school.
Father Fletcher visited our family a lot and we were very active in his church. John did his accounts and I did everything from sewing the buttons onto his black shirts to taking communion to the elderly.
He took a particular interest in Daniel, recruiting him as an altar server. People were always drawn toDaniel. He had a sweet nature, an angelic face and shining eyes.
In fact, I worried about adults’ interest in him, but I took care to check that outings and parties were supervised.
Daniel was about 14 when his behaviour started to change. He’d disappear without explanation, have emotional outbursts and avoid playing cricket with his brothers as he usually did.
I worried about it to Father Fletcher, who insisted it was normal teenage mood swings, but my other sons didn’t behave like Daniel. He seemed depressed and confused. He was given detentions and his exam results fell.
When he left school, he started binge-drinking and was arrested for drink-driving, he had a series of broken relationships and kept moving job and home. At 19, he was going off the rails and didn’t seem to value his life at all.
One day I was sick of seeing him drunk again and we argued. He walked out, and when I followed, I found him on a trailer beside the tractor with a noose around his neck. As I screamed, he jumped.
I supported his weight until Bernard came to help me and then, not knowing what else to do, I called Father Fletcher.
He told me to send Daniel over to see him, saying he could spend the night there. He returned more distressed than ever.
One night in 2000, he called from Tasmania, where he was now living. He’d just been referred to a psychiatrist for stress.
Suddenly a question popped into my head. I still don’t know what triggered it – call it mother’s intuition.
“Have you been sexually abused?” I asked. He replied: “Yes.”
I was shocked but he wouldn’t say any more – I know now that not wanting to talk about it is a normal reaction from abused people – and I wondered who it was. One name was top of my list: Fletcher.
I was right. Daniel said it had happened the night he tried to hang himself. Fletcher had given him more alcohol and a tablet and he’d bombed out. The next morning, he realised he’d been assaulted.
We thought the priest was a dirty piece of work who’d taken advantage of Daniel.
We were disgusted, but Daniel was an adult so had to report it himself, and he wasn’t ready.
It wasn’t until some time later, when he said he might like to go to the police, that John asked: “We’re right beside you, mate, but why on earth would the priest do that to you when you were 19?”
Daniel looked at me. “Because it started when I was 12,” he replied.
The abuse he suffered was so traumatic, it took him 11 months to make his statement.
An employee at the Department of Public Prosecutions asked to be taken off the case because it was so distressing.
When I finally read it, I wept bitter tears to think all that was happening under my nose. Why didn’t I see it? I asked myself. But I hadn’t been looking for it.
Daniel recalled how he was told to stand on his “tippy toes” during one session of abuse. Once he had to ride his bicycle home standing on his pedals.
One part of his statement, describing a particularly awful incident, reads: “Tears were running down my face. The pain was unbelievable.
"My knuckles were white and I just focused on the St Christopher’s medal [Fletcher] had hanging near the steering wheel.
"If I focused on that, it was as if it would take the pain away and make me forget what was happening. But it didn’t. All the way home he kept emphasising this was a secret.”
I felt furious Fletcher had got away with it. I anguished that Daniel was made to feel it was his fault – he didn’t see himself as a victim.
The church community rallied around Fletcher and many ostracised me.
I received frightening anonymous calls and a man rammed his trolley into me in the supermarket, leaving my shins pouring blood. I’d go to talk to another member of the congregation and they’d move away.
I was taken aback, but understood that if they accepted he was a paedophile, they’d have to accept he fooled them, too.
Many of Fletcher’s supporters came to court for the trial in 2004. Another priest gave half his congregation’s Christmas collection towards his legal fees.
By then, two more victims had come forward – one after Fletcher asked his family for a character reference. The arrogance of it!
The police had accounts of more than 80 offences over five years, and the nine strongest were heard in court.
Fletcher denied eight charges of homosexual intercourse with a child and one of aggravated indecency with a child. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 10 years.
We were asked if we’d celebrate, but there was nothing to celebrate.
Daniel wanted Fletcher to admit what he had done and say sorry, but that never happened: In 2006, Fletcher suffered a stroke and died. His funeral was attended by 34 priests.
After the trial I was so traumatised, I needed to get everything out of my head. I also wanted to write a record for the family to help us move on.
I only intended to keep it on my shelf, but as more information came out about abuse and cover-ups by the Catholic church, people said: “Why don’t you publish that book?” So I have.
Daniel, now 36, spoke at the launch. He has a strong woman, a good job and three beautiful children – he wanted everyone to know he was doing well. I’m very proud of him.
Several positive things happened after the court case. Our diocesan bishop, Michael Malone, set up Zimmerman Services, which refers sex-abuse victims to the police and provides support and counselling.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who had taken Daniel’s very first statement, went on ABC’s Lateline and spoke graphically of the horror of child abuse and of high-level cover-ups in the church and the police force.
There was a public outcry, and the following Monday, Julia Gillard announced a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
I’m 63 now and live quietly in the Hunter Valley. John and I separated – the stress didn’t help – but we’re still a close family. I advocate for other victims and support other mothers going through a similar ordeal.
I don’t go to Mass any more. My faith hasn’t changed, but I don’t need a priest. I’m in charge of my own spirituality.
As told to Beverley Hadgraft
Holy Hell by Patricia Feenan (Fontaine Press, $24.95) is out now. Visit -- holyhell.com.au
If you or anyone you know has suffered abuse, call Lifeline on 131 114.
Read more: http://www.news.com.au/national-news/the-case-of-daniel-feenan-triggered-the-royal-commission-into-child-sex-abuse/story-fncynjr2-1226593380989#ixzz2NBgTmgit