real life

Anthony Foster was a tireless advocate for child sex abuse survivors within the Catholic Church. We pay tribute.

In March Anthony Foster, tireless advocate for survivors of institutionalised child sex abuse, gave us what was to be his last interview before suffering a fatal stroke last week. Today he will be buried and honoured with a State funeral.

Anthony and his wife Chrissie Foster sit around the dining table in their home in rural Victoria, the table’s fractured glass design a fitting symbol of their shattered lives.

Around them are familiar bits and pieces; photo frames, a cat’s bed, and piles of books. Through the window it is possible to see the dam their grandson likes to explore; a glimpse into the sanctuary they have created away from their Oakleigh residence from where they have lead their campaign in support of those who have suffered institutionalised abuse.

“We have stuck by each other ever since, no matter what." (Image: Getty)

Anthony’s tall frame bends over as he reaches for the cat, Chrissie is at his side. He gestures to the dull weather outside, saying he is hopeful the sun will return for their weekend barbecue. There is a pause and then a shift in mood.

Emma and Katie Foster, their eldest and middle daughters, were repeatedly sexually abused at the hands of their trusted parish priest, Father Kevin O’Donnell in the late 1980s. Their youngest daughter, Aimee, thankfully escaped his clutches.

At 13, Emma was old enough to understand and remember what O’Donnell did to her when she was only five-years-old. Plagued by disgust, Emma entered a downward spiral of self-destruction that lead to her suicide at 26 years of age.

In 1997, a year after Chrissie and Anthony learnt about O’Donnell’s abuse of Emma, Katie was suddenly overcome by a deep depression. Under her bed in a large shoebox, Chrissie found a suicide note revealing O’Donnell had raped Katie too when she was eight-years-old. Preoccupied by suicidal thoughts, Katie turned to alcohol and while drunk, blindly crossed a road and was struck by a drunk-driver. The injuries so severe Katie now requires 24 hour care.

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The devastation is indescribable.

For more than two decades, Chrissie and Anthony Foster battled against the unyielding Catholic Church for their daughters and the lives the church had stolen from them.

In a situation that could - and has - torn families apart before, the strength of their love for each other was cemented - Chrissie and Anthony were soulmates.

A gentle man in everyday life, Anthony’s energy and anger was immediately apparent when discussing the fate of his daughters and the multiple failings of the Catholic Church.

“For us, the emotional side of it doesn’t go away,” Anthony says.

Chrissie met Anthony briefly when she was 24 years old, months later their paths crossed again at a party. Six weeks later, Anthony proposed and without hesitation, Chrissie said yes.

“We have stuck by each other ever since, no matter what. Anthony and I were married in July, 1980. Our daughter Emma came along in November, 1981, and Katie was born in July, 1983,” Chrissie said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

For more than two decades, Chrissie and Anthony Foster battled against the unyielding Catholic Church for their daughters and the lives the church had stolen from them. (Image: Getty)
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The Catholic Church treated the Fosters, and other victims, not solely with disdain. They actively perpetuated a culture of intimidating survivors and their families to avoid proper redress and compensation for victims.

The Melbourne Response was introduced by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1996, designed to assist victims of the Catholic church. The Fosters applied for this scheme, where Peter O’Callaghan, the Queen’s Council representing the church told Anthony the damage done to his daughter was in excess of AUD$2 million.

Cardinal George Pell AC, contacted Peter O’Callaghan about how to handle the Fosters’ case.

“He got a bit of a wind of it and he wrote a letter to the solicitor...saying ‘how can we flush out the Fosters?’” says Anthony.

“That just showed an incredible lack of independence (between the church and its solicitors),” he continues.

When asked about their present relationship with the church, Chrissie and Anthony bluntly and instantly respond “no”.

“We don't go to Catholic Churches,” Anthony says. “We had a friend’s daughter marry in a Catholic Church and we didn't go...particularly because it was the same church. We couldn't go.”

“You look at the size of our family now compared with what it should’ve been...and the emotional loss of that, you can’t describe it.” (Image: Getty)
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The Fosters vehemently believe the institution’s culture has not changed.  That the perpetual culture of ‘cover-ups’ is rooted deep within the institution.

The scrutiny the Fosters suffered was not only from the leaders of the institution. Community members and former friends chose to align themselves with the church during Chrissie and Anthony’s fight against child sexual abuse.

Despite Anthony and Chrissie advocating against child sexual abuse for more than two decades, insensitivity from the institution continues to plague their lives right up until his death.

Anthony sits back and his features visibly ease. He compares the two institutions, Transport Accident Commission and the church.

TAC is a state run organisation created to pay for treatment and benefits after accidents directly caused by the driving of a motor vehicle.

“The response from the society has just been amazing,” Anthony says and for a moment he smiles. “The TAC system provides Katie with a lot of care and things to keep her going.”

In the case of serious injury, TAC can also provide lump sum payments.

“The TAC system provides Katie with a lot of care and things to keep her going,” Anthony explains and leans forward, “But it’s not life,” he says solemnly, “She sits around the table but cannot have a discussion because she doesn't know what she did 10 years ago and she doesn't know what she's going to do in 10 years.”

“She doesn't know what happened 10 minutes ago,” Chrissie says.

Anthony nods his head, “Someone else has to be her memory all along.”

But it is the memory of Katie’s devoted dad that resounds strongly in the days following his passing.

Anthony’s contribution and lifelong advocacy against child sexual abuse will be remembered forever, with his legacy for justice continuing to live on.

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Manny Waks, child sexual abuse survivor and fellow advocate, paid tribute to Anthony on his Facebook page saying how devastating it was to hear of his untimely passing.

“Anthony, together with his dear wife Chrissie, has been one of my inspirations...many of us are mourning with you. We will continue to support you in whatever way we can,” wrote Manny.

Manny Waks, child sexual abuse survivor and fellow advocate, paid tribute to Anthony on his Facebook page saying how devastating it was to hear of his untimely passing. (Image: Facebook)

The Fosters have suffered an immeasurable amount, both together and individually. But the church will never “flush out” their voices and the inspiration they have given to countless victims over the past 22 years.

“We would have had a totally different life, we would not have been through any of this and our children would've been okay,” Chrissie says clasping her hands over the shattered glass table.

Anthony hugs their cat to his chest.

“We’ve got two grandchildren which is fantastic but we look at Katie and she can’t have any. And we look at Emma and she’s dead. We’ve got Amy with a husband and two kids, Katie with no one. She should have had a husband and kids,” Anthony pauses but no one can speak. “You look at the size of our family now compared with what it should’ve been...and the emotional loss of that, you can’t describe it.”

Chrissie and Anthony exchange a look and then he speaks, “That's where our anger and where our advocacy comes from. It's better than just sitting around and doing nothing,” Anthony says.

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