BY PATRICIA FEENAN
I learned 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 collective consciences.
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.
— Patricia Feenan is the author of the new book Holy Hell and mother of Daniel Feenan, the victim of Fr James Fletcher who brought charges against him which resulted in nine convictions on 6 December 2004.
We were a flock without a shepherd (Aurora)