It’s the morning after the night before and Australia wakes to the reality that it is to get the most wide-ranging enquiry in its history into the issue of child sex abuse.

It’s been a long time coming. Allegations, some proven, some not, of sex abuse of minors by those in authority – clergy, carers, teachers – have been in the spotlight for decades.

It took a bushfire, lit by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox to turn the decades of tampering around the edges with updated “protocols” and court evidence considered by some institutions to be aberrations, to bring on a Royal Commission.

Though there are many questions yet to be answered about what the Royal Commission will do and how, and though the Prime Minister insists the enquiry is not targeting the Catholic Church, there are more then a few who think it is – and should.

Not easing the hurt of victims is the statement this morning from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference  which states that “While there were significant problems concerning some dioceses and some religious orders, talk of a systemic problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is ill-founded and inconsistent with the facts.”

So lets look at some of the facts.

Let’s take the case of Daniel Feenan, now aged 36.

His mother Pat Feenan told me: “Every morning he opens his eyes and he walks with that pain”.

Daniel was an 11 year-old altar boy at St Patricks Church in Maitland in the Hunter Valley, when the abuse by Father James Patrick Fletcher, now deceased, began.

The Feenans’ were devout Catholics when Fletcher was assigned to their parish. They opened their family home as a Christian act of welcoming.  Fletcher’s response was to begin grooming their eldest son for sex.

Soon, Fletcher was forcing him in to violent oral and anal sex, often in open spaces. There was always threat involved. The family priest would tell Daniel their “special time” together was a secret and if it became known, Fletcher would hurt one of Daniel’s three younger brothers.

Daniel was 17 when the abuse ended and 25 when he went to the police.

What did the church do when it became aware of the police investigation?

The Archbishop of the diocese, now contrite, tipped off Fletcher and moved him to another parish – a bigger one.

“I am ready and willing to help the Royal Commission in any way I can,” Pat Feenan told me.

“And so is my courageous son. He’s brave. He was the first in the Maitland Archdiocese who had to testify in court. My Daniel had to go through the pain of the inquisition and the media and the reporting of the horrible details” she said.

“He is pretty happy.  He knows he has played a part in this and he knows I fought really hard for this Royal Commission and for justice. He feels vindicated”, she said.

 And let’s look at what Chrissy and Anthony Foster of Victoria have been through, along with their three daughters, two of whom were abused.

“Our girls were assaulted at school by the local Catholic priest,” Anthony Foster said.

“They were 5 years old and up, raped multiple times over many years. It went on for several years – we think about 5 years with Emma and with Katie probably about 3 or 4 years” he said.

Their abuser was Father Kevin O’Donnell who had been offending since 1946. When Emma was 14, she heard news that O’Donnell, now deceased, was convicted of the sexual assault of 13 others. It was a catastrophic moment for her. She began self-harming.

“We saw her with blood pouring out of her wrists,” said Anthony Foster, “taking heroin to dull the pain.”

Emma killed herself as she struggled to come to grips with the serial abuse she had suffered at O’Donnell’s hand. She was just 26 years old.

Her sister Katie became cognisant of the sexual abuse she had suffered when she turned 14. She told her parents but began binge drinking.

“She was at a friends house,” Anthony Foster told me, “she was drunk, crossed the road, and was hit by a car. She has severe brain injuries,” he said.

“She has pre-accident memory. But she can’t run her life. She has a five minute window on life.”

Katie and Emma Foster’s abuser is buried in the Catholic Church crypt at Melbourne Cemetery.

 The Royal Commission will hear dozens, if not hundreds of stories like these.

The Catholic Church says it now has all the correct procedures in place to react appropriately and indeed to prevent further cases of abuse.

But Pat Feenan isn’t at all convinced.

She told me: “Wouldn’t we all like to wake up to a nation with no abuse. I’d like to do that but I don’t know if that can happens, especially by the clergy. I’ll wait and see. At least this is some hope.”

Pat Feenan is still a believer, but not a practicing believer.

“I don’t know what it means to be a practising Catholic but I rarely go to church. I’ve lost faith in the structures, the buildings, the whole Catholic set up. But I have spiritualty and its personal and my belief in God has never waivered,” she said.

 Anthony Foster has lost not one daughter but two.

“We can’t do anything to bring Emma back or restore Katie’s life,” he told me. “But we can help the victims who are still alive and who need all the help they can get.

“At times like this we battle through. We know our experiences are an important part of what happened and in achieving something.

“But I’d rather have Emma and Katie back.”


If you, or someone you know, is suffering. The Number for Lifeline is: 13 11 14

If a life is in danger call:  000



Time for a Royal Commission

Celibacy for Priests has to die

Woman of the Week: Bennadette McMenamin

*Monica Attard OAM, is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She was the host of the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch.She spent 28 years at the ABC, leaving to start up The Global Mail where she was, until recently, the Managing Editor. In 1997, Monica published a book entitled Russia: Which Way Paradise? documenting her time there as a foreign correspondent.

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  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Andrew Page-Robertson

    Another well-written piece, Monica, but do you think the findings of the Royal Commission will fare any better than all the other Royal Commissions we’ve had on various other important topics? It seems to me that they are used more as a stop-gap measure than anything else, they give the appearance of something being done, but rarely do the findings translate into affirmative action.
    If this RC looks like going the way of so many others, then it will be up to journalists like you to constantly hammer whoever the government is by then, and NEVER let it be pushed aside or watered down with platitudes. Governments may have short memories, but those poor kids will never forget the harm done to them.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    So very sad, it is a long time coming and I hope they weed out these dreadful people who have gotten away with this disgusting behaviour for far too long. I feel so very sorry for the families and the victims.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    My chief worry is that evidence will be shredded in the time it takes to get this off the ground and running.
    The RC church will do anything it can to limit damage and prevent attrition from it’s ranks.
    Chief amongst them is Pell, the now clearly outed and discredited head of Australia’s RC community.
    As a youth who spent 12 years educated by Catholic priests, nuns and brothers I can tell you this is not a fantasy dreamed up to discredit the church…. this is real.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    My heart goes out to the Feenans, the Fosters and every other family touched by the vile, unconscionable & deeply criminal behaviour of these individuals. I am heartbroken at the efforts ‘the church’ has gone through to protect the abusers over many, many years, all the cost of the welfare, and lives, of their victims. I wish with all my heart that these events had never happened, The fact that this is now front page, that these institutions will be forced to confront the appalling things people within their organizations have done over many many years – that is the central merit of this RC.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Wendy Harmer

    So do I moorie, I cried for them, but that’s no good. They need justice and hopefully that will bring some measure of peace and healing. Much, much too late. What a tragedy for these families. I think we will have to steel ourselves for what’s to come.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I cannot begin to understand the pain and breaking of trust that this brings, I commend our Prime Minister for her courage,[let’s face it the Catholic Church has great political power],and I am confident that finally this will be exposed for the horror that it is. Suffer the little children, my heart breaks for them.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Lisa Lintern

    Just horrific. These tragic stories must never, ever be forgotten.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I am a little bit worried that the royal commission will go take too long and will not have any teeth
    I like the South Africas truth commission where the churches are facing the victims, the victims tell their heartbreaking stories and the chuches have no room to run and hide. They have to sit and listen to the horrors.
    Whatever happens I applaud the police officer that reopened the debate on Late Night Live.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    The proposed Royal Commission is wide ranging in scope – one of its shortfalls – perhaps to avoid the accusation that the government – which has I am sure a fair amount of staunch Catholics among its ranks and certainly among its voters – is unfairly targeting that behemoth of an institution. On the world stage, too, the Catholic Church wields immense power – its opposition to the sexual and reproductive rights of women is another kind of abuse, albeit indirect. The Holy See has a vote at UN Conferences and, in league with other fundamentalist states, has used it to stifle the progress of the human rights agenda. Some naming is in order.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    monica attard

    The Prime Minister has said the provisions against shredding of documents will be retrospective. Lets hope everyone does what they should.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    jonah stiffhausen

    Talk about foxes guarding the chicken coops. A Royal Commission into bureaucratic flunkeys abusing children in the divorce courts is long overdue. This abuse is conducted by er …. lawyers, judges, social workers, counsellors, marriage counsellors, all backed up at last resort by the flat-footed Filth. In other words, it carries the imprimatur of the state. The very same reprobates who’ll no doubt, be doing all they can to persecute the Church. The stench of hypocrisy is over arching.

    • Reply November 14, 2012


      @ jonah stiffhausen, are you completely heartless or just totally ignorant? The sexual abuse of children by people in authority has absolutely nothing to do with the way some parents (and always remember that it is the parents to instigate the behaviour that leads to children being traumatised by their parents divorce) use their children as pawns in a war against their ex-partner.

      • Reply November 14, 2012


        He’s a troll. Ignore him.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I have a brother that suicided 10 years ago. While not directly as a result of any proven assault at his Catholic boys school. I have often wondered if he had been assaulted, there were just some behaviours that he showed. There were lay teachers and a religious brother that have been convicted from that school. I think that you would find a high incidence of suicide and self harming behaviours from particular schools. I know of suicide notes from previous students who mentioned their assault. One of my Uncle in Laws mentioned in a letter written to his family of his assault during the 40s and 50s at a Catholic Boys School – funnily enough, the same one that my brother attended!

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    The Catholic Church has, via this statement, offered its full support into the proposed commission. Despite what people think, Pell is committed to stamping out incidents of child abuse. But the history of the cover ups is tragic and its terrible that these violators of their vows where reintroduced to other parishes. So sick!
    Unfortunately these disgusting actions and stories are not just part of the church, but the wider community also. Priests do not become paedophiles. Paedophiles become priests, cops, teachers and more because they know they will be in a position of trust. They are sick, and they deserve to be punished and condemned, and justice needs to be accorded to their victims and their families.

    • Reply November 20, 2012


      To be fair, that’s not the only reason why pedophiles become Roman Catholic priests. Many (and there has been research to this effect) do it because they believe that the church is a safe environment, and the enforced celibacy will be good for them.

      I don’t know if everyone saw the piece on Hungry Beast a few years ago. If you haven’t, I recommend it. Here’s the link. Warning: Some of the material in that piece is very confronting and potentially triggering, but it’s very important.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I read a pre-pub copy of Patricia Feenan’s book (Holy Hell) and it is a wonderful read. The story from a mother’s perspective of the devastating and long-standing effects of the vile acts of a priest and his revolting acts of denial, aided by the Church hierarchy.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    These churches are nothing more than a society of depraved murderers. For centuries they have held up the bible to us as a model of goodness and pronounced on our wickedness.

    And most of us swallowed it hook line and sinker.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I’ve had to explain to my daughter what child sex abuse is as we heard the news on the ABC radio this morning. To have to explain to an 8 year old that there are some adults who force children to have sex and do inexplicable things with them is confronting but I need to keep my children well informed to try and prevent anything like this happening. I feel awful. Shattering her butterfly views of the world in this way is just nasty but I just hope it prevents her hopes and dreams from being shattered at the will of some vile and weak predator who I explained is more likely to be known to the child/ren. Power to the children – remove the ‘rude parts’ of their bodies and replace with the facts and give them skills to talk back and argue with authority figures. I know easy for me to say. These are tragedies and I’m so sorry for the children and their families.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Yes agree Faith. It is horrible to have to do it but you have to give your children permission to speak up and to know these people lie as well as do evil things. They lie when they tell children to keep quiet or else… Children must know they are allowed to stand up and not be quiet. To yell the place down if they have to. To kick and bite and make these bad men go away if they can and if not they can come to you and you will make them go away. It served my children well. No way would I send children away to a boarding school or scout camp or training session without full knowledge of what might happen and what they can do about it.

    Let’s shine the very brightest light on these predators and let them cower in the spotlight.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Thomas Brookes

    My Father was one of the victims of the Roman Catholic Church Christian Brothers. My Father (now 85 years old) and the ex mayor of Cambelltown, were the first to blow the whistle on it all, one night on the 7.30 report on the ABC many many years ago.

    The stench in the Church reaches all the way to George Pell.

    What Pell and the RC Church put my father and the others through was a second hell, as Pell and the RC Church hid behind its, PR people, it’s lawyers and Statute of Limitations Laws. It was simply appalling and completely unchristian.

    The Catholic Church clearly cares more about the criminal priests, its reputation, its assets, and it’s substantial cash reserves, far more than the victims, whose lives have been destroyed.

    I find it extraordinarily inappropriate that Julia Gillard’s priority was to contact Roman Catholic Archbishop George Pell, to give him her assurances. Again this illustrates the influence the Church has on Government… that must be severed.

    Church has no place in Government and is the major reason why the disgusting concealment and cover ups of child abuse by the Catholic Church has been allowed to continue and I use the word “allowed” deliberately.

    The Catholic Church is a nasty criminal Corporation masquerading as a Christian Church, operating under the protection of a corrupt political system, made up predominately of ex lawyers and religious sympathisers.

    My father made numerous representations to Politicians, of what had occurred at the Christian Brothers facility at Bindoon in WA and none of them did anything. They were either too scared of the RC Church, or they were protecting it.

    Its a shameful history and a blight on our system of toxic Government, that must be removed and replaced and I mean all of them ALP and LNP.

    Nobody talks about the second layer of victims….. the children of the victims, and the effects on them….of which I am one.

    I hope Pell and all the others who have had a hand in all this, go to hell…… which is what they deserve.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Sorry to say it but churches get away with things. Initially when I heard of the royal commission last nightI felt hopeful but then I quickly thought, I bet nothing changes.

    Pell today said, Why are we dragging up old issues? ……call me synical but church people have got away with too many things for too long and are still getting away with things.

    When I read stories of abuse by the church or see interviews on TV of men and women telling their stories of abuse church people it is on my mind for days. They all felt powerless and priests and other church people knew exactly what they were doing…..let us NOT pretend that they didn’t!

    I do not care whether it was 4 weeks ago or 40 years ago, those in power have to be held responsible.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    In an interview with the Fosters on ABC, the mother of the girls said George Pell told her “if it is not proven in court it is just gossip”. He is an evil, vile man. He should have no influence in our government or our society.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Thanks Monica and/or Ed. for putting Lifeline and emergency numbers up. I am glad some journalists and papers do this when they write troubling stories. It is responsible journalism. For anyone suffering post -traumatic stress and feeling triggered~ I have on occasion rung Lifeline and not been able to get through. My point is hold on~ you can get through eventually. Also there are crisis lines on sexual assault.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    The predators each should be named and shamed. Sexual abuse is unacceptable and a horrible thing for the person and their family the after effects last for years.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Yes Faith and Rhoda I agree, we need to educate our children about what is very wrong and not allowed. But how do you expain sex abuse to a young child who has no concept of what sex or sex acts are without going into details? We tell them if it feels wrong and uncomfortable it is wrong, but the person is usually someone in authority to them, sometimes it is a loved one. The younger children just don’t have the experience or strenght to fight them and are scared if their family is threatened. They don’t undersand that it is a bluff to keep them quiet. How do we stop this? We need to listen to our kids if they tell us they don’t like someone or don’t want to go near them, regardless of who that might be. It might be nothing but It might just save your child from the life of traumas mentioned previously. Unfortunetly these ratbgs look for the vunerable easy targets who don’t know they can say no and should make a big noise about it. Trouble is we need people around who will listen to the noise and do something to stop it happening.
    Hopefully now that the ball is rolling, and the people who have suffered are coming forward to explain how badly it affects every part of their life, we will.

    • Reply November 13, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      Dear Mary… you have raise an important issue. How do we explain to young ones what sexual abuse is? How do we recognise when children are exhibiting sexual behaviour outside the range of “normal”? Fortunately there are some very good resources for this and one I’d use is this one which uses a system of traffic lights : red, yellow and green.
      There are a couple of good downloads here. Hope you find it helpful.

      • Reply November 13, 2012

        Jayneen Sanders

        Wendy: please check out Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept. CASA are using this book as are many schools and even if your don’t recommend the book, parents could download free under Tips for Parents : 9 Body safety Tips. There is also a free Body safety song sung to Twinkle Twinkle and Debra Byrne reading the book. In all sincerity I just want parents to teach body safety to their kids. It is simple, costs nothing but this is something parents can do to help change the awful statistics of 93% of kids knowing their abuser, and 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before 18.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Interesting to hear Pell on radio say the protocol is not to “move” a priest who is accused of child abuse to another place~ and apparently that has been the protocol since 1997(?). I am not a Catholic. Does anyone know what the process is for “defrocking” a priest so they can no longer act in the capacity of priest~ or in any other role ~ one would hope?

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Reading Mary’s comments and on my usual reductive mode around what happened to me~ we know that fight, flight or freeze reaction but how we actually respond may vary depending on what we have experienced before. I would like everyone to have some self-defence skills. I liked jujitsu and aikado~ the latter of which uses the momentum of the aggressor to get you out of trouble. I had not been practicing long when I was grabbed by a bouncer from behind~as I was sipping water with a cigarette in my hand`and a bit drunk. I reacted to his unwelcome touch from behind~ and then I am in an old rape body memory. Still I think it is good to teach kids and adults self-defence on all levels~physical,sexual,emotional,spiritual,social and psychological to be ready as we can be…Most times I have been raped I froze..

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I was sexually abused by a 16 year old neighbour, just once, when I was very young – probably about 6 or 7. I have never forgotten that moment, and he was belted black and blue by my father, but nothing other than that was done – early days. He now lives in Perth, has a family and is a Chiropractor! Can you imagine – a chiropractor. I met his nephew, a well-known actor, in Melbourne once, and was tempted to warn him to keep his children away from him.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Lucille~ I live in Perth…I am heartened your dad believed you~ and whilst I generally deplore violence I fully get your Dad’s response to your then victimisation…and your urge to out this man.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I feel deeply for all survivors of child sexual abuse and their loved ones. My 10 year old daughter disclosed sexual abuse two months ago to me by her cousin – a boy eight months older than her. She had been holding on to this secret for about three years – her behaviour was very angry and alarm bells rang though I did not think to think of sexual abuse as the cause because I had asked her directly whether anyone had inappropriately touched her etc. She is traumatised and my husband and I are devastated. I would consider myself hyper vigilant in this area with all my children – I never for one moment thought another child let alone a family member would be a threat. I have since learned it was unrealistic of me to expect a child to be able to say no to a person who is perceived to be more powerful or well liked/loved within the family even though she knew about inappropriate touching explaining in some small way why she became a victim.The fact that she disclosed is of enormous relief and quite rare apparently. We are being supported through this journey and the hope is to heal our daughter. The silence surrounding sexual assault is being broken – it is so prevalent. So much pain.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    The actuality of someone who is a “father” to you raping you is,well a real head f***,as well as its physical,emotional, and spiritual consequences. When such abuse was or maybe still is institutionalised and covered up~where does one go~ yes, of course police ~der~what happens then? where does one go to reconnect? I am not happy identifying as a “victim”. I liked to fight the bully. I am not happy I have not been believed. I am not happy that people who should have known better prefer a sugared version of what happened to me~namely it did not happen~ and continue in professional roles assisting others like me,but not me. The trouble with horror is we have a self-defence mechanism to shut out how awful it is~ and by the time we recollect~too late.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Jayneen Sanders

    Shocking cover ups and terrible secrets these poor kids had to endure. Nothing will give their lives back. We MUST have mandatory sexual abuse prevention education in all kinders and primary schools in Aust.. Parents MUST come on board and teach body safety to their kids as a normal part of their parenting conversation. Knowledge is a powerful deterrent to perpetrators. Remember 93% of kids know their abuser, and 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before 18. This book won’t hurt but it just might help: Some Secrets Should Never be Kept. PLEASE teach body safety to your kids so future generations don’t have to go through such horror.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    I am appalled at the defensiveness displayed by the Catholic Church mouth pieces since the announcement of the royal commission. I hope this inquiry brings them to their knees.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Jayneen Sanders

    Shocking cover ups and terrible secrets these poor kids had to endure. Nothing will give their lives back. We MUST have mandatory sexual abuse prevention education in all kinders and primary schools in Aust.. Parents MUST come on board and teach body safety to their kids as a normal part of their parenting conversation. Knowledge is a powerful deterrent to perpetrators. Remember 93% of kids know their abuser, and 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before 18. PLEASE teach body safety to your kids so future generations don’t have to go through such horror.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    A very good point, Mary. In my own case, my husband and I just brought it up casually and mentioned that no one AT ALL had the right to touch them if they didn’t want to be touched. I did not go into detail until they were old enough to understand without being fearful. If you do it without making a drama of it and repeat now and again until you know they are fully aware then you have done the job.

    Fact is though we were super vigilant when they were young. I had heard the stories and was on guard. It is puzzling to me actually that people are so blase about having children around other adults without supervision when stories like those above have been in newspapers for decades. Seems everyone has been turning a blind eye. Well not this little black duck.

    A story. My boys went to boarding school and I was made aware that one teacher there was touching boys in the swimming pool. Nothing came of it. Then he became my son’s housemaster and as the boys walked down the stairs from their bedrooms he would pat them on the backside – each and every one – except my son – who stopped and told this housemaster straight what would happen if he ever laid a finger on his person. This is revealing of the fact that not one other boy – 16 year olds – had the nerve to do the same. Not one. Now why is that.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Thinking about that old movie ” The Devil’s Playground” and all the stories I have heard, and told~ which are not just stories, but are our lived lives~ and I wish you all well. I know you have courage and strength, and I wish us hope too.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Sue Bell

    Not only do we have to teach children to understand their body reactions, i.e. the thrill of fear when doing a new thing like a big slide or the big dipper and the fear of a strange dog and to know how to react to these different fears. Another excellent exercise to do with your kids is have them draw around their open hand then get them to write or you write for them on each finger a person that they could go to if they were worried or scared or hurt and is it someone they would trust to help them.
    The fingers are for family, friends, older others like teachers, grandmothers etc.,
    Around the outside the hand is people in their community that they could go to such as dance teachers, friends parents, the inside of the hand (the palm) is for others like imaginary friends, dead parents, teddy bears.
    Some kids only have the palm safety outlet, some have just the outer group, some everything. This is a chance to talk to them and give them some control over their own safety and over their body. You should also tell them if one of their safety people does not respond teach them to be persistent and tell others on their list.
    I learnt this through a UN world health training class.
    It worked well in my daughters primary school class, we timed the finish of the hand exercise to coincide with recess and the kids left the papers on their desks. This enabled the teacher to read them and see if any kids had difficulties or few or none safety people. Then the children could keep them to either take home or keep privately. One girl only had her dead mother but she could be told that by talking to her mother her mind starts to sort out the problem for her and help her find someone.
    We finished the session with a scary fun game to reinforce the feel of good and bad adrenalin and to have fun.
    If this helps anyone I will be really happy.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    Annie from Faulco

    My young family member was told by her trusted family friend, “Promise me you won’t tell your mother? It’s our secret.”

    She promised, and promptly told her father.

    Fortunately, this was at the earliest stage of grooming, and no physical contact occurred. She was believed, supported and loved by those who had no idea that her predator was the man we all admired.

    She learned this strategy at her local public school in a program which focused on No Secrets. Our surprise birthday/Christmas gift is a shared plan, not a secret, etc.

    Secret is a word which may have benign connotations (Secret Santa in your workplace), but also has negatives – family secrets, anyone? Usually negative, otherwise we’d be shouting them from the rooftops.

    A dictionary definition of “secret”: Something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others.

    No adult should tell kids to keep secrets.

    My proud young family member, who spoke out against her potential predator, tells me that secrecy is a construct, derived from hegemony, based upon patriarchy.

    I think that means we should all stand up against secrecy.

    Just when I thought post-modernism was bullshit, I now understand it was the precursor to Twitter.

    • Reply November 14, 2012

      Jayneen Sanders

      Good on your young family member. This is what all kids need to learn both at school and reinforced at home! Sexual abuse prevention education can make a huge difference.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    alison vigne

    Education is the key and fortunately society is moving away from trusting people of authority. I know of a man who was approached by an Anglican priest at boarding school, when he told his parents they admonished him for telling terrible lies (talking 1960’s).
    Catholic Education needs a revolution, especially in the area of contraception. Recently heard that one maternity hospital in the Phillipines has 200 births per day, with many of the Mothers having their first baby at 14 and having 6 or more by mid 20’s. These “women” share one bed between 4 adults and 4 babies in the materinty ward.
    The world doesn’t need more babies, but more compassion for all and better living standards. Slightly off message I know. Religion.. revolutionise or die. sympathy to the tragic families and adults affected by these traumas.

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Monica Attard

    Thanks for all these great comments. Some of these stories are very sad. Indicative of the wider malaise. Will keep on top of developments. Promise.

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Tony W

    “I know of a man who was approached by an Anglican priest at boarding school, when he told his parents they admonished him for telling terrible lies (talking 1960′s).”

    Yes that’s pretty typical of most kids experience in the ’60s when children were seen as mischievous untrustworthy miscreants who “should be seen and not heard”. Apparently we were nothing more than little savages who in the absence of adult discipline, principally in the form of corporal punishment, were entirely incapable of governing our supposedly base instincts and would quickly revert to barbarism – a dictum graphically portrayed in the 1959 work of fiction “Lord of the Flies”, which most of us were forced to study at school. No doubt the author developed his theories as a teacher at Bishop Wordsworth’s School for Boys – where students to this day are known as “Bishop’s Boys.” A rather loaded term I find!

    If parents had trusted their kids more back then we wouldn’t have this epidemic of paedophilia vicitims from that era. We never told them anything bad about our teachers because we knew they’d always take their side. I used to get the cane or strap at least twice a week for a decade, and sometimes a cricket bat across the arse, and various other brutal punishments including getting belted around the head on a regular basis. My parents never had a clue until I mentioned it casually in my 30s.

    That was with the good old Marist Brothers, a right bunch of thugs and weirdos they were. We all knew who the paedophiles were because they tried it on with so many of us, including me. Also there were lay teachers who were paedophiles, including a PE teacher who groped some kids in their tent on a school camp. He got 10 years jail in 2005 for crimes at a subsequent school. That’s 37 years and many more victims after that school camp. Naturally none the brothers ever got prosecuted, we all know they’re a protected species.

    We also knew who the victims were, even if we didn’t understand the seriousness of what was happening to them behind closed doors. They were kids like Terry, my best friend since Grade 5, who seemed unusually close to these bastards the rest of us hated. They stayed back after school for extra “study”, and mysteriously had access to brothers quarters which were way out of bounds to the rest of us. Terry’s father was a strict catholic and a harsh disciplinarian, fond of taking a belt to his three boys, which I know because I witnessed it more than once. In later years Terry talked about joining the seminary and we drifted apart. A year or so after I left school I heard he died in mysterious circumstances. I’ve always suspected suicide. Later on I heard one of his brothers was killed in a car “accident”, and the other had been in psychiatric care for years.

    As far as I’m concerned the parents of paedophile victims are as much to blame as the paedophiles themselves. They sit around bleating about government inaction when it was their own blind faith in the church which allowed it to happen at all.

    As for you jonah you sanctimonious bible basher, don’t ever try and tell people like me this is a problem with the state. Open your other eye and stop being an apologist for Pell. Better still, meet me for a chat one day and I’ll give you a good catholic education the way I got it.

    • Reply November 21, 2012


      Tony w – you should retract your remark ” the parents of peadophile victims are as much to blame as the peadophile themselves” . This is insensitive and generalised and I take offence to it. Do you openly blame your parents for the treatment you received at Marist bros? According to your theory it was their fault.

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Tony W

    I take it my post on the Foster case was removed. Fair enough, in hindsight it was hurtful rather than helpful. Apologies for that.

  • Reply November 16, 2012


    I always have my say but of course don’t expect it to be published….again what about the other victims e.g. Fosters daughter got my daughter into drugs she committed suicide 4 months after there daughter…she was made Carer for there daughter and spent five years trying to get her off the drugs and ended using with her….I have to live with the image of seeing my beautiful baby in the garage how do I overcome that…no never will and never will forgive the Fosters for promising me they were going to dedicate there book ‘hell on the way to heaven’ to my daughter….didn’t happen. Shame on you Fosters!!!!!!

  • Reply November 18, 2012


    @Tony W “Yes that’s pretty typical of most kids experience in the ’60s when children were seen as mischievous untrustworthy miscreants who “should be seen and not heard”.”

    Tony, it’s really sad that that’s all you were able to take away from the ’60s, with the resultant lingering bitterness that seems to be bubbling just below the surface. For balance, that wasn’t my experience in the 1960s at all and they saw me through from pre school-age to upper primary.

    Sure corporal punishment was alive and well in the ’60s, but my parents never treated any of us like mischievous untrustworthy miscreants who “should be seen and not heard”. The seen and not heard philosopy was part and parcel of the type of upbringing my father had to endure during the ’30s and ’40s. We listened to the stories in amazement – it was so far from our own reality.

  • Reply November 18, 2012

    Tony W

    “Tony, it’s really sad that that’s all you were able to take away from the ’60s”

    Not sure where you got that idea from gogirl. We had an awesome time as kids in the ’60s and ’70s, I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I feel sorry for kids growing up in the nanny state these days, wrapped up in cotton wool by their parents.

    My point was that parents didn’t trust kids back then. They always took the adult’s side, so we never told them anything bad about our teachers, there’s no way they’d believe a kid’s word against a “man of God”. As alison says, “when he told his parents they admonished him for telling terrible lies.”

    The fact that you can blithely say “Sure corporal punishment was alive and well in the ’60s” proves you haven’t got a clue about what went on in catholic boys schools. Did you ever get bent over in the schoolyard and cop a cricket bat across the arse so hard it made you throw up your lunch? Did you ever cop a fibreglass cane across your fingers until they turned purple? Did you ever get your head belted so hard it made you see stars? Did you ever get probing hands between your legs as was so commonplace at my school?

    This was everyday stuff under the Marist brothers and while it never broke my own spirit there were plenty of kids made timid and submissive by this “discipline” and some of them succumbed to sexual advances which eventually progressed to rape.

    I’m happy that you had progressive parents and you weren’t brutalized at school, but you can spare me your sanctimonious patronizing attitude and give a thought to kids like my friend Terry, who for want of decent parents he could turn to when abused by “men of God”, might still be alive today.

  • Reply November 18, 2012

    Tony W

    “He’s a troll. Ignore him.”

    Actually jonah is not a troll jacqueline. He’s just a devout church man articulating the common church defence that paedophilia is at least as rife in state institutions as it is in the church. It’s a viewpoint coloured by faith in the church but it’s a conviction nonetheless. These people don’t condone or seek to hide paedophilia in the church, they just deny its extent. Elsewhere jonah has strongly condemned paedophile priests.

  • Reply November 18, 2012


    @Tony W “My point was that parents didn’t trust kids back then. They always took the adult’s side, so we never told them anything bad about our teachers, there’s no way they’d believe a kid’s word against a “man of God”.

    Yep Tony, I understood your point the first time – I just didn’t happen to agree with the generality you attributed to it – and I still don’t. That may well have been your reality in the ’60s, it wasn’t mine.

    If giving my opinion, with a view to balancing yours, makes me sanctimonious and patronising, then so be it.

  • Reply November 18, 2012


    Pell is defending the indefensible. He is not a kind man nor is he a godly man. He should read his bible. “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:10, King James Version).

  • Reply November 18, 2012

    Tony W

    “If giving my opinion, with a view to balancing yours, makes me sanctimonious and patronising, then so be it.”

    No gogirl, that certainly does not make you sanctimonious and patronizing. What makes you sanctimonious and patronizing, and condescending and judgemental as well, is your personal reference to me:

    “Tony, it’s really sad that that’s all you were able to take away from the ’60s, with the resultant lingering bitterness that seems to be bubbling just below the surface.”

    Get the picture? There’s a big difference between expressing an opinion on a subject, and expressing an opinion about a person.

  • Reply November 18, 2012

    Tony W

    “it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea”

    Sounds like a good idea to me Rhoda!

  • Reply November 19, 2012


    @Tony W, you’re the one who put it out there, you wrote it in the first person.

    You know, I truly didn’t mean to offend you and I really do think it’s sad when kids can’t talk to their parents – as it makes them so very vulnerable.

    That said, the berating is insightful. I eagerly await the next instalment.

  • Reply November 19, 2012

    Tony W

    “That said, the berating is insightful.”

    You just can’t help yourself can you gogirl! If you can’t say it outright you’re determined to insinuate that I’m consumed with “lingering bitterness that seems to be bubbling just below the surface.”!!

    That’s called “argumentum ad hominem”. It’s when you attack the person rather than the person’s argument. It’s an attempt to discredit the argument by discrediting the person making it.

    In this case your very first words were your ad hominem attack against me, then you went on to present your own anecdotal experience. Had you omitted the ad hominem I would have had no problem with your comments. If I’d replied at all it would simply be to point out that girls would have little or no idea what went on in boys schools.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to offend me and I can assure you I took no offence on my own behalf. I have a rather thick skin in these matters, thanks in large part to having survived the Marist brothers more or less unscathed. However there would be less fortunate victims here who might find your casual dismissal of corporal punishment a little insensitive.

    Hence too my deliberate ad hominem attack on jonah, whose comments about “persecution of the church” were insensitive in the extreme.

    As for the original argument – namely my generalization about parents not trusting their kids in the ’60s – I think you’d concede that parents are much more attentive to their children today. That was my whole argument, by way of explaining the specific case of alison’s acquaintance whose parents “admonished him for telling terrible lies”, and in general, as I said – “the epidemic of paedophilia vicitims from that era.”

    The case of your own progressive parents does not invalidate that argument, and unless you can provide an alternative hypothesis for the preponderance of cases being from that era, the evidence for that argument appears overwhelming.

    Not sure what your point is about me writing in the first person – that’s how we all write about our own experience.

  • Reply November 19, 2012


    Children from state and catholic schools mocked each other on the way to and from school during the 50s and were throwing rocks at each other. Religion was part of our identity and families were so easily influenced by its authority.

    The church’s grip on Australian society has weakened considerably since then. We no longer take religion seriously and have found other things to do on Sundays besides attend church.

    One only has to look at the recent death of Savita Halappanava in Ireland to realize the power and influence we once allowed the church, trumping and trampling as it did on the human rights of a mother and wife in such a public way.

    It was so in your face. And where was God.

  • Reply November 20, 2012

    Tony W

    “Children from state and catholic schools mocked each other on the way to and from school during the 50s and were throwing rocks at each other.”

    Haha, I’d forgotten about the stone throwing Rhoda! Back in the ’60s I had to run the gauntlet on my pushbike when riding past state schools in my catholic school uniform on the way home. It was great sport for state school kids, they’d wait along the school fence and pelt me with stones as I pedalled past as fast as I could!

    I never understood why they hated us so much, apart from simply being from another school. I realized much later as you say, “Religion was part of our identity and families were so easily influenced by its authority.” That applied especially to catholics, who even voted according to church instructions – namely DLP, which split the Labor Party and kept the Libs in power for 20+ years with their preferences. I imagine that would have angered Labor voters, most of whose kids would have attended state schools and would have picked up on their parents’ hatred of catholics at home.

    That kind of catholic solidarity amongst adults would make it even more difficult for abused kids to challenge catholic authority figures. Effectively they’d be challenging their parents’ religion AND their politics!

    Not that my criticism of parents in that regard seems particularly welcome here. Then again, I seem to have worn out my welcome on Hoopla fullstop, judging by adverse reactions to my comments elsewhere.

    As you say the death of Savita Halappanava is as outrageous as it is distressing, and stands as a stark reminder of how things were in Australia not so long ago.

    I remember on Q&A a while back the panel was debating the question of whether religion is on balance a force for good or bad in the world today. I find it profoundly depressing that the question could even be asked, let alone debated seriously. I fear it will be a very long time before Lennon’s “Imagine” vision will be realized.

  • Reply November 21, 2012


    I’ve been thinking more about this over the last couple of days, I have a question which I’d like someone on The Hoopla to tackle.

    If you had a child who came out as gay, I’d hope that everyone here would, after perhaps feeling a bunch of complex emotions which quickly pass, be totally cool and supportive. Being gay is pretty much mainstream these days, so the adjustment would probably be quick and relatively painless.

    If you had a child who came out as transgendered, that’s a little more unusual, and induces a bit more of a shock and a slightly steeper learning curve. But, once again, this is the 21st century, and I think most of us could handle it.

    If you had a child who had some kind of serious mental illness or psychiatric disorder, I’m certain we’d all be concerned and supportive. I think that’s a given. The degree of shock would, I suspect, depend on precisely which disorder it was.

    So here’s the question: What if the psychiatric disorder was pedophilia?

    We can assume, for the purpose of the question, that the child in question is an adult, has never abused a child, and does not want to abuse a child. We can also assume that you would do the obvious “right things”, like get them into treatment as quickly as possible.

    But how would you feel? Would it change any of your attitudes, knowing that a large part of society thinks that your child, who has never harmed anyone and does not want to harm anyone, is a monster? If you were a public figure, would you use your position to campaign for some kind of societal change in attitude? If so, what?

    For my part, I honestly don’t know how I’d feel in that situation. It must be horrible. Yet, I think it’s something that we as a society will eventually have to face if we are serious about stopping child abuse at the best of all possible times: long before it happens.

  • Reply November 21, 2012

    Tony W

    “If you were a public figure, would you use your position to campaign for some kind of societal change in attitude?”

    Certainly not in the current climate of debate around paedophilia!

    One of the benefits of the Royal Commission is that it may lead to a better understanding of paedophilia as a disorder rather than a crime. The terms of reference will undoubtedly include making recommendations on the prevention of child sexual abuse in the future, which inevitably means investigating the phenomenon of paedophilia and the measures taken elsewhere in the world to prevent its expression in the form of child abuse. A lot of scholarly work has been done in this area so if some of can get reported we may eventually see a more humane approach to the problem of paedophilia emerge in society. Or at least, a more clinical approach.

    However we’re dealing with some pretty fundamental taboos here, and it’s also a pandora’s box in many ways, when you consider that perhaps 4% of the population are paedophiles. We’ve done a pretty good job of demonizing that word, to the point where it’s virtually synonymous with child sexual abuse. In fact it’s probably now the most vile word in the entire English language. So for these and other reasons it may be a long time before societal attitudes towards non-offending paedophiles can be ameliorated. We’re asking people to swallow an oxymoron here – “innocent paedophile”.

    Nevertheless it’s not entirely impossible, as the example of homosexuality perhaps illustrates. It wasn’t that long ago we used to lock gay people up simply because of their sexual preference, and now we have a thriving culture of gay men and women. Not that I’m suggesting we need a thriving culture of paedophiles!

    For the moment we’re engaged in something of a witch hunt on behalf of past victims of child sexual abuse, by way of seeking a measure of justice and healing for them. I suspect until that phase of the exercise is concluded there’ll very little public appetite to explore the broader question of paedophilia in society. But you’re right Pseudonym, it’s the only way we’ll ever prevent child sexual abuse in the future.

  • Reply November 23, 2012

    David B

    This is a massive issue around the world but we are just seeing the start of it here in Australia. This will be one of the biggest issues ever faced by this nation.

    Schools, churches, sporting clubs, family member and priests will all be shaken to their core.

    I notice Patricia Feenan’s book Holy Hell is available from .

  • Reply November 24, 2012

    Tony W

    “This is a massive issue around the world but we are just seeing the start of it here in Australia.”

    Yes, the numbers in the US are staggering. We’re talking LITERALLY millions of children experiencing sexual abuse. All backed up by extensive research.

  • Reply November 26, 2012

    Tony W

    test message (posts bouncing elsewhere)

  • Reply December 1, 2012

    Wendy Green

    It is a sad, sad day for the human race when children are sexually abused. Where have we come from? Where are we going? God help us!

  • Reply December 1, 2012


    Being a paedophile is not a crime in this country. However if the paedophile commits an offence such as rape or other sex offences or is found in possession of child pornography then the law is applied. I assume a paedophile is not convicted of being a paedophile but is charged with the particular offences concerned with his crime. A lawyer would explain it better but that’s how I understand it.

    If you are a paedophile and have fantasies about children then how is anyone to know except those treating them.

    It’s a big big issue that needs to be properly aired and discussed and brought out of the shadows obviously because the ramifications of letting all this abuse continue is a breach of our duty of care to children.

    I think there is a need to advocate for better treatment programs in the prisons certainly. And for coordination of programs at the national level.

  • Reply December 29, 2012


    When is the Catholic Church and its abusers, not to mention other as yet un-named abusers going to be held accountable…..We have had our own paedophilia ring in my home town in NSW which has not been fully addressed as yet. It is about time it was blown open for the city to know and for justice to be done….It goes well beyond Father F.
    God help the poor innocent defenceless children!

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