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.
The inquiry has begun hearings into how the Sisters of Mercy, the Rockhampton diocese and the state government responded to complaints made by former residents of St Joseph’s Neerkol Orphanage.
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.Witness AYB
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.
All I could focus on was the crosses on his shirt, so I yelled at him, ‘Father, you are committing a mortal sin’.Witness Mary Adams
“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.”
Second witness raped, badly beaten
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’.”
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.
Photo: The number of children resident at Neerkol varied from 150 to 500, depending on the year. (ABC TV News – file image)
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.
Photo: Pat Garnett, outside the Rockhampton court, has travelled from Newcastle to show support to victims of abuse at St Joseph’s Neerkol Orphanage. (ABC News: Marlina Whop)
She said as a result there were criminal proceedings in respect of Father Durham, now deceased, and a former employee of the orphanage, Kevin Baker.
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.
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.
Photo: LtoR Carolyn Frawley from Cairns and Leonie Sheedy from Geelong, outside the court house in Rockhampton. (ABC News: Marlina Whop)
The inquiry was told that former residents had complained about Father Durham as one of the main perpetrators.
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”.
In June 2003, a Catholic Church tribunal found the bishop had not seriously violated the church’s principles.
Victims give evidence at Royal Commission into abuse at Queensland orphanage
April 15, 2015 12:00AM
A CATHOLIC priest is alleged to have hypnotised a 12-year-girl with a silver fob watch before raping her, while another forced his victim to “confess her sin of impurity” after each attack.
In some of the more sinister evidence to come before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, two women yesterday told of a widespread climate of paedophilia mixed with religious piety in the Rockhampton Catholic community in the 1960s and ’70s.
Public floggings with a horse whip of runaway boys and ritual humiliation of bed-wetters, forced to stand in the communal dining room with their wet sheets on their heads, were alleged to be part of an often-sadistic climate at the Neerkol Orphanage, presided over by the Sisters of Mercy.
A 67-year-old woman told of being raped and attacked up to 100 times by local priest Father Reg Durham, the attacks continuing even as she trained to be a nun.
“I never thought worthy to be a nun, so I left before I took the white veil,” the woman, called AYB, said.
After the attacks, Father Durham, now dead, would take from his pocket a purple stole studded with white gold crosses, kiss it and put it around her neck before asking her to confess her acts of “impurity”, she said.
“I was always asked if I was sorry for my sin,” she said.
Another woman, Mary Adams, now 65, made a tearful statement to the commission detailing her rape at the hands of a “Father John”.
She said Father John, who has neither been formally identified by the commission nor located, had been a relieving priest in the early 1960s during a religious retreat.
The Neerkol Orphanage entre is at the centre of the Royal Commission.
The Neerkol Orphanage entre is at the centre of the Royal Commission.
Ms Adams and her friends had trusted him, confiding to the young priest about their treatment, which included beatings and being forced to wear “dunce caps” if slow at school.
Father John appeared sympathetic and sent the girls away after expressing his concern. He chose Ms Adams, then aged 12, to come back to his room that night to discuss the situation further.
Ms Adams said Father John then began discussing “Adam and Eve” and the Garden of Eden, which made her uncomfortable.
Ms Adams said Father John then produced a silver fob watch and waved it in her face, telling her she was “getting sleepy”, prompting only laughter in the 12-year-old who had seen the same act performed at the Rockhampton Show.
But she said her laughter angered the priest, so she pretended to go to sleep and was picked up by Father John and carried to a bed where she was raped.
“I still pretended to be asleep but my mind was racing, I was terrified and panic stricken,” Ms Adams told the hearing.
“I started to cry and became hysterical. All I could focus on was the crosses on his shirt.”
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 1940-75.
The inquiry will resume at the Rockhampton court complex this morning.
Victims of a ‘reign of terror’ conducted by nuns at central Queensland orphanage to tell their stories
April 14, 2015 6:29PM
Michael Madigan. AAP
Neerkol orphanage has previously been exposed as a place where physical, sexual and
A FORMER resident of a central Queensland orphanage has told a national inquiry how nuns administered public floggings and forced bed-wetting children to stand with soiled sheets draped over their heads.
Retired nurse Mary Adams, 64, suffered repeated emotional, physical and sexual mistreatment at the hands of nuns and priests at the Neerkol orphanage near Rockhampton in the 1950s and 1960s, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard.
Sobbing uncontrollably at times, Ms Adams told the hearing in Rockhampton she was punched, slapped, pulled by her hair and on one occasion flogged with a skipping rope so forcefully she struggled to walk for days.
Boys who tried to run away from Neerkol were publicly flogged with horse whips, and those who wet the bed were forced to stand with the soiled sheets draped over their heads.
Ms Adams recounted how when aged 12 she confided in a visiting priest, and he tried to rape her.
Another priest repeatedly molested her while she was billeted to a foster carer in Mackay, the commission heard.
She later received $20,000 compensation from the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton and the Sisters of Mercy, who ran the orphanage.
However, Ms Adams said she felt let down by the former Catholic bishop of the Rockhampton diocese Brian Heenan, who she said hadn’t made any real attempt to identify the priest who sexually assaulted her at Neerkol.
“No amount of money can ever give back my childhood, my loss of confidence, my lack of formal education, my dignity, my self-esteem and self-worth,” Ms Adams said.
About 4000 children passed through what was known as St Joseph’s Orphanage between 1885 and 1978.
Earlier, a 67-year-old woman who worked at Neerkol said Bishop Heenan had been originally dismissive of her claims she was raped more than 100 times by parish priest Reginald Durham, who is now dead, from when she was 11.
“After each time I was sexually abused, I had to go to confession to him and confess my sin of impurity,” the woman, identified as AYB told the hearing.
Father Durham was in 1999 sentenced to 18 months prison for indecently dealing with the woman but many more serious charges involving her and other complainants were discontinued.
Another 12 former residents are due to recount their experiences at the hearing, which is scheduled to conclude on April 24.
The commission is investigating historical allegations of child abuse at the Neerkol St Joseph’s Orphanage near Rockhampton, which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy until 1978.
Another Queensland woman told the inquiry she was repeatedly raped as a child by a Catholic priest, who then made her confess to her “sin”.
The 67-year-old woman was 11 when Father Reginald Durham, her parish priest, began sexually abusing her at her Rockhampton home, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard.
The woman, identified by the commission only as AYB, said Fr Durham abused her more than 100 times over the following years, including at his presbytery at the Neerkol orphanage when she worked there as a teacher.
She detailed how the now-deceased priest fondled her breasts, forced her to masturbate him, digitally raped her and penetrated her with objects.
“After each time I was sexually abused, I had to go to confession to him and confess my sin of impurity,” AYB told the commission, which was sitting in Rockhampton on Tuesday.
“He would say, ‘Are you sorry for your sin, my child?’ and I would reply ‘Yes Father’.” She said Fr Durham would then give her absolution.
The priest was sentenced to 18 months’ jail in 1999 after pleading guilty to six counts of indecently dealing with the woman when she was a child.
He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years’ in prison for raping another child, but the conviction was overturned on appeal and he was ultimately ruled mentally unfit to stand trial.
AYB told the commission she was ignored when she initially reported the abuse to other priests and was later humiliated during a psychological assessment set up by the Catholic Church Insurance company.
She said she still suffers nightmares and had considered suicide.
“I have spent the majority of my life struggling with the impact of sexual abuse that began when I was just a little girl of 11,” she said.
“I have spent much of my life believing I was lower than a snake’s belly.” Several others are due to recount experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of Fr Durham and other priests at the Neerkol orphanage between 1940 and 1975.
The commission is investigatiing historical allegations of child abuse at the Neerkol St Joseph’s Orphanage near Rockhampton, which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy until 1978.
EARLIER: A GIRL who wet her bed at a Queensland orphanage was forced to stand among her peers in a dining room with the wet sheet draped over her head, a royal commission has been told.
The woman, who wept constantly during her testimony to the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Rockhampton, said she was also forced to wear a nappy to school until aged 12, slapped around the head and beaten with a skipping rope by a nun until her legs were covered in welts.
She said she and other girls who wet their beds were herded into the dining room at Neerkol Orphanage near Rockhampton carrying their sheets.
“We were made to stand with the wet sheets draped over our heads,’’ the woman said.
The girls were formed to sleep in a room set aside for bed wetters on army style beds.
“I could be very cold,’’ she said.
The commission is sitting is hearing from men and women who attended the Neerkol Orphanage outside Rockhampton between 1940 and 1975.
Earlier, a lawyer argued information provided by a witness to the royal commission was so lurid it should not be made public.
One witness had provided a statement to the commission which contained a paragraph so “lurid” it could easily be sensationalised by the media, barrister Peter Callaghan, QC, told the commission.
“It is just difficult to exaggerate the way in which it might be sensationalised,’ Mr Callaghan said.
Mr Callaghan said it was difficult to believe such an accusation had taken so long to emerge.
The hearing was told the man, who had been acquitted of criminal charges, had been named in earlier reports.
An application to suppress the man’s name was rejected, and the man, known as Mr B, will be named during the hearings.
Sophie David, SC, told the commission Neerkol accepted thousands of children between 1940 and 1975 and the population numbered between 150 and 500 at any one time.
The children who included British migrants were not well educated and many children left the orphanage barely literate.
Punishments were excessive and did not meet regulatory requirements, Ms David said.
A priest at the orphanage Reginald Durham, now deceased, pleaded guilty to six criminal offences related to the abuse of children in was sentenced to 18 months prison in the late 1990s.
The inquiry continues.
EARLIER: Victims of a decades-long “reign of terror” conducted by nuns at a central Queensland orphanage are due to tell their stories at a royal commission.
The Neerkol orphanage near Rockhampton has previously been exposed by the Forde Inquiry in 1998 and 1999 as a place where physical, sexual and psychological abuse was rife.
The home, also known as St Joseph’s Orphanage, was operated by the Sisters of Mercy until 1978.
About nine former residents are expected to detail their experiences at a public hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Rockhampton this month.
The scope of the hearing includes their experiences and the responses of the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton and the Queensland government to complaints of child sexual abuse.
The Forde Inquiry into the abuse of children in Queensland institutions found the orphanage operated in a climate of fear in the period from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Children were subjected to a process of depersonalisation and at times harsh or degrading discipline, including isolation and floggings.
There were reports of sexual abuse from members of foster families, male orphanage workers, visitors, nuns and priests.
The estimated two-week public hearing begins today at the Rockhampton Courthouse.
Don’t recall any of them speaking out. Ignoring this disgrace is just as bad. For those saying this was what happened then… my childhood was in the 50’s and 60’s and I can tell you it was nothing like that. My mother did go to a Catholic school in Charleville and she despised nuns as well.
Man tells of abuse in Australian Catholic orphanage
Last updated 13:12, April 14 2015
David Owen holds a photo of himself as a boy.
David Owen was born after his 12-year-old mother was raped, was offered for adoption in a newspaper advertisement, and was physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted for years at an isolated orphanage run by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy.
This week, at the age of 76, he will tell the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse what it is like to live your life with the “stain on your brain” of being abused almost from the day you were born, the Newcastle Herald reports.
Owen, of Newcastle, wants Australians to care what happened at Neerkol orphanage outside Rockhampton between 1940 and 1975, when children were out of sight and out of mind of the government that was supposed to be responsible for them.
“The reason why people didn’t believe when we told them years ago was because it was so outrageous and so inhuman, what was done to us. All I can do is tell how it happened,” Owen said.
The royal commission will hear from former Neerkol “inmates” like Owen, and examine how the Sisters of Mercy, the diocese of Rockhampton and the Queensland government responded to complaints made by the former “inmates” from 1993.
The royal commission will hear evidence of child sexual abuse by workers, priests and nuns at the orphanage.
In private evidence to Queensland’s Forde inquiry into abuse of children at Queensland institutions in 1999, Owen gave shocking and graphic evidence about years of violent sexual abuse by live-in Neerkol priest Father Anderson.
He also gave evidence about the Mercy nuns who knew of the abuse and provided limited medical treatment for the physical injuries Owen suffered from as young as nine, but also beat and abused him when he reported it.
At the royal commission, he will give evidence about the government inspector who was a friend of the priest and failed to note problems at the orphanage.
In 1999, the Forde inquiry concluded Neerkol was severely under-resourced, the Sisters of Mercy were overwhelmed by the care of hundreds of children at any one time, and children were neglected and physically, sexually and psychologically abused.
The royal commission will consider how the statute of limitations has prevented people from taking legal action.
As a child, Owen was told his mother was dead. As an adult, he discovered she was alive and living in Newcastle. They were reunited and he discovered he had half-sisters.
He cried at the memory of seeing her for the first time and saying “Mum”, and her response: “Son”.
“You only have one mum. I was with her for 18 years until she died. She was a treasure,” he said.
Owen could not read or write when he left Neerkol, but he was good at rugby league. He played in Queensland alongside Wayne Bennett. The two men remain friends. The game was a release from the emotions that churned within him.
“That’s where I let the anger out, on the football field,” he said.
The anger that welled up was also the reason he never had a sexual relationship with a woman, or married.
“I worried that I’d take out the cruelty that was done to me on my wife, so I never married,” he said.
Owen has had to prepare himself to give evidence at the royal commission.
“The rethinking of it, you’ve got to relive it. You feel the floggings. You feel the fear and the pain. You go back to that time because it’s always there.”
Owen cried when he pulled out a copy of a Cairns newspaper with a classified advertisement in 1938 seeking “some kind person to adopt a baby boy”.
“That was me,” he said.
And within a few weeks, he was at Neerkol.