By William Rollo and Marlina Whop
A witness at a child sex abuse inquiry says she was raped "well over 100 times" by a priest at St Joseph's Neerkol Orphanage Rockhampton in central Queensland.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard the treatment of children at the orphanage was "vicious and sadistic", while an earlier inquiry found hundreds of children were sexually abused, beaten and forced into hard labour there.
| St Joseph's Neerkol Orphanage in Rockhampton in central Queensland|
The number of children resident at Neerkol varied from 150 to 500
About 4000 children went through the orphanage in its lifetime
The orphanage has already been the subject of several police and government investigations, and a 1999 inquiry led by former Queensland governor Leneen Forde.
After the so-called Forde Inquiry, the Queensland government at the time offered ex gratia payments of up to $40,000 to people as long as they dropped other legal action against the state.
Over the next two weeks, the royal commission will hear evidence from 18 witnesses, with 13 being former residents of the orphanage, who say they were abused by priests, workers, and nuns there from 1940 to 1975.
Abuse started on Christmas Eve
A witness, known as AYB, told the inquiry how she was abused by a former priest at the orphanage, Father Reginald Basil Durham.
She said the abuse started when she was 11 years old and Father Durham came to the family home on Christmas Eve to drop off some presents.
I felt so powerless, so robotic. He had so much power over me. I believed that I did not have choices. It was almost like being enslaved.
AYB said she was under the house with Father Durham when he said he deserved a kiss from bringing her presents.
"Father Durham then kissed me using his tongue and fondled my breasts and told me that I was his special little girl," she said.
"He was a smoker and the taste was horrible.
"He told me it was to be 'our secret' and I was not to tell anyone.
"I could hear his heart beating."
"Father Durham had sexually abused and raped me well over 100 times."
"I felt so powerless, so robotic. He had so much power over me."
"I believed that I did not have choices. It was almost like being enslaved."
She said Father Durham would sometimes take her down to an old toilet block.
AYB said she was forced to rub his body and Father Durhan raped her — which he said was to prepare her for when she had a baby.
"Even today there are times when I experience nightmares and call out in my sleep 'go away, stop and don't touch me'," she said.
"I am doing this so we can claim our lives back to try and live out the rest of our lives with courage and peace and without the demons from the past dominating our memories with shame, guilt and regret."
|Mary Adams (centre)|
Former resident Mary Adams was sent to Neerkol when she was just nine months old.
She told the inquiry that she was sexually abused by two priests.
"I had become hysterical, crying, trying to push him off me," she said.
"All I could focus on was the crosses on his shirt, so I yelled at him, 'Father, you are committing a mortal sin'."
Obviously, that didn't work. You have to have a fear of God for that to scare you. Paedophiles have no fear of God, even paedophile priests.
Ms Adams, 64, also broke down as she addressed the hard punishments dished out by nuns.
Sobbing at times, Ms Adams told the hearing she was punched, slapped, and pulled by her hair by one sister.
She said on another occasion she was flogged with a skipping rope so hard she struggled to walk for days.
"I had welts on my body for days after," she said.
Children too scared to tell their stories of abuse
Counsel assisting the royal commission Sophie David SC told the hearing in her opening address that one former resident of the orphanage had described the treatment by the sisters as "vicious and sadistic".
She said at the time, the children were too scared to tell their stories because they were afraid of harsh punishment.
Ms David said the age of children at the orphanage ranged from newborns to 15-year-olds.
The number of children residents at Neerkol varied from 150 to 500, depending on the year.
The Sisters of Mercy staffed, supervised and operated Neerkol from 1885 until it had no further child residents in 1978.
The inquiry heard there was serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children.
In one case, a former resident will give evidence that he was sexually abused by a priest, beaten with instruments and flogged with a whip.
Ms David said from 1993, long after the orphanage closed, former residents came forward to the church and the Queensland Police to report allegations of sexual abuse.
|Pat Garnett shows support to the victims of abuse outside Rockhampton court house|
The court heard Queensland Police charged Father Durham on February 6, 1997 with 40 sexual offences against five former residents of the orphanage and a former member of his parish.
On February 15, 1999, Father Durham pleaded guilty to six counts of indecently dealing with a former resident, identified by the inquiry as AYB.
All other charges were discontinued and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, with a recommendation for release on parole after a period of four months.
What? No gold watch? 40 counts of sexual offences and he gets 4 months in jail. How ridiculous.
The hearing was told that on March 31, 1998, Mr Baker, who was an employee of the orphanage as well as being a former resident, was committed for trial on 69 mainly sexual offences, related to 12 former residents.
He was never convicted of any offence.
Let me guess - the prosecuting attorney for Rockhampton was a Catholic? Anybody know?
|Carolyn Frawley from Cairns and Leonie Sheedy from Geelong, |
outside the court house in Rockhampton
Mark Bunting, from support group Lotus Place, said the horrific ordeals of the victims would be painful to recall.
"For a lot of people, their childhood memories they've tried to forget, it's going to be quite difficult to relive those stories," he said.
"It wasn't just sexual, there was a lot of physical and emotional abuse, so for a lot of people it'll be very painful."
Bishop who denied abuse claims to appear at inquiry
Former Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan is also expected to appear at the inquiry next week.
In 1996, Bishop Heenan outraged the victims of Neerkol by denying their claims about abuse by priests and mistreatment at the orphanage.
But in 1997, he was forced to apologise.
"I regret having expressed my reaction the way I did - I recognise now that they were not accurate," Bishop Heenan said at the time.
In a 2003 statement to ABC TV's 7.30 Report, Bishop Heenan said he had "acted at all times with honesty and integrity".
Of course he did. He's a Catholic!
In June 2003, a Catholic Church tribunal found the bishop had not seriously violated the church's principles.
The church has principals? Who knew?
Was there ever a Catholic run orphanage where there wasn't any child sex abuse? Not rhetorical, I'm honestly asking.