Home' Aurora : Aurora December 2012 Contents 5
www.mn.catholic.org.au Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
ILEARNED THAT the Prime Minister had
announced a Royal Commission into
child sex abuse on the radio, while I was
driving. An interview on the topic of sexual
abuse was interrupted to say that the Royal
Commission would happen. I put my head
on the steering wheel and wept.
Hopefully the Commission will be an
effective examination with wide powers
and clear terms of reference. I have been
reflecting recently on the current debate
around Confession. I was taught as a
little girl about examining my conscience.
I guess one of my hopes is that the
Commission will lead organisations,
including our Church, to examine their
From what I've read the Commission will
have far reaching powers and the terms of
reference will include not just the Catholic
Church. However, there's no denying the
statistics that suggest the Catholic Church
in our own diocese is probably leading
the tally. That's disgraceful. I've said I'm
ashamed -- and of course I always reiterate
that the abuse was bad, but the way the
church handled it was dreadful and that
caused added pain.
I really hope the Royal Commission can
bring the trust back. Until that happens, I
am of the opinion that the Church is going
nowhere because we keep getting knocked
down with further stories. I want it all out.
People get cynical, and there's a lot of
cynicism about all this.
I have always known that Catholic people
are really good people, they rally around
when there's sickness or someone's died
or there's a struggle of some kind. But
when my son Daniel told the truth about
the abuse he suffered at the hands of a
priest, they didn't rally at all. The ostracism
we felt was an enormous burden -- on top
of what had happened to our beautiful son.
By the time of the court case, years after
Daniel's disclosure, we did have support,
although not from priests who knew us as
a family. Some priests told me that they
had "popped in to wish Jim [Fletcher] well".
They didn't pop in to wish us well. However,
friends and associates did come to be with
us -- in fact, we were quite a Catholic flock --
we just didn't have a shepherd.
I didn't understand people's reservations
about it all then, but I think I do now.
The most important thing is that what
happened to us won't happen now,
because of the diocese's Child Protection
Unit Zimmerman Services and the
diocese's healing arm. I can guarantee that
a victim who approaches the Church now
will be treated with respect. I know people
will be supported and someone will walk
with the victim and the victim's family for
the whole journey. The lack of support we
found, initially, is historic but it still hurts --
and people carry that kind of pain forever.
People say that in the past, the psyche of
the paedophile wasn't understood. We
certainly know a lot more now about their
craft and the way they execute their crimes.
At the very least they should have been
taken out of ministry but they weren't.
I've had a lot of time alone to think about
all this. It's not what I thought -- things
James Fletcher was warned that he was
being investigated by the police. To my
knowledge the police didn't even search
his presbytery because anything that could
have incriminated him would have been
gone. Too much went wrong.
I prayed for James Fletcher's mother and
his family because they loved their son as
we loved ours. Ironically, my mother and his
mother were friends -- both have passed
I don't hate the Catholic Church, and the
book I've written certainly isn't a Church
bash, but I remain devastated. It was my
beloved Church as much as anyone's.
There are really good people out there - and
good priests who must be distraught.
I am proud that I've written something that
people say is valuable, that will help victims
and will help people understand the pain
and hopefully become more compassionate.
my head. I can't say to people, 'I hope you
enjoy it', it's not that sort of a book. I put
it aside for a number of years, but with
renewed allegations, people said, 'Why
don't you finish that book?'
Now I am an advocate for other victims and
their families, and I'm glad to be able to do
that. Sometimes just a phone call, or a cup
of coffee and a chat, can make a difference.
We didn't have that.
I've got to believe that Zimmerman
Services is doing good. I invited Newcastle
Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy to have
coffee at Zimmerman House (as it was
called) with the families of other victims, so
she would know that we have this service
available to us for support. She accepted
the invitation, and so she knows that
people now don't walk alone the journey
that my family and I walked.
I feel that I can't do much more. James
Fletcher picked the wrong woman's son
to abuse! He was our priest, and we did
live our Catholic faith; it underpinned our
lives, so the betrayal was devastating. My
relationship with my God is exactly as it's
always been, I just lost faith in the Church
as a structure.
Daniel's bravery was rewarded, finally, but
at what cost?
To learn more, or to order Holy Hell, please
Patricia Feenan is the mother of Daniel Feenan, the victim of Father James Fletcher who brought charges against him which
resulted in nine convictions on 6 December 2004. In April 2005 Fletcher was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in gaol.
He died in gaol in January 2006. Pat is the author of Holy Hell which tells the story of her family s experiences. Aurora invited
Pat to respond to the announcement that a Royal Commission will be held into organisations responses to allegations of child
sexual assault, and to reflect on her personal journey.
By PATRICIA FEENAN
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