'My husband is a survivor of Catholic sexual abuse. The Pell verdict rocked us to our core.'

This post deals with child sex abuse and might be triggering for some readers. 

The past couple of weeks have been fraught for our family. Not only are we all home-bound due to coronavirus, but we have been following the media surrounding Cardinal George Pell almost hypnotically. We are invested.

You see, my husband is a survivor of Catholic sexual abuse.

It occurred in the 1980s, when he was a boarder at a well-known school for boys. The signs were there but I did not put it all together until over a decade into our relationship and two children later.

He would latch on to any media stories about paedophiles. He would watch certain movies over and over, most notably ‘Spotlight’ (about an American Newspaper that uncovered multiple instances of abuse) and ‘Sleepers’, a story of four boys who were abused in jail and seek revenge.

His anger when he heard of such abuse was, I thought, irrational. He is a solitary person and prone to distrust. One night, it all clicked for me, and I asked, ‘Did something happen to you?’ His reply was devastating but a relief. We are both receiving counselling. But it has not been an easy journey.

My husband is not demonstrative and has always had issues with trust and intimacy. His first sexual experience at thirteen years of age was forced on him by a man in a position of trust and more than three decades later, that incident has huge repercussions. I find that I make a big effort to reinforce how attractive I find him, how ‘manly’, that what happened to him is not about anything in him that was lacking.

He is often over-protective when it comes to our daughters and me, verging on anger at times. He is hyper-aware of who they spend their time with and as they get older, I wonder if the girls might find it restrictive.

I also wonder how much we should ever tell them and when. He doesn’t ever want to tell them what has happened to him, but I am not convinced.

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We have both found the reaction to the Pell case frustrating. There are all sorts of heart-tugging, well-meaning quotes trending, telling survivors that they will be believed, that others stand with you. But the reality is that there are survivors of abuse who are looking at the media scrum and thinking that there is no way they are coming forward.


The onus is on the survivors to prove the abuse and often the length of time and lack of resources, combined with the power and wealth of the Catholic church mean that this is exceedingly difficult.

Many abuse victims’ reason that they have made it this far and perhaps it is best just to put your head down and do your best.

When I read Pope Francis’ pointed tweet after Cardinal Pell was released, the one where he prayed for those who were the victims of ‘unjust sentences’ I excused myself to vomit.

The entire tweet reeked of vengeance and power, not of compassion and certainly not of pity for how survivors of Catholic abuse might be feeling. I will not weigh into whether I think Pell is guilty or not. I am far more concerned with the fact that the church has a well-deserved reputation for covering abuse and the reaction of the Pope and other Catholics has further damaged their institution.

Last year, when Pell was convicted, ribbons appeared along the fence in front of the local Catholic church. Nobody knew who put them there. I snuck there one night and tied on my own ribbon for my brave partner and it fluttered orange and bright amongst the faded ones that had been there for weeks.

Later I heard whispers that the ribbons were tied on by the town’s one remaining nun, an aged Sister. Perhaps those high up in the Catholic church could look to their humble members for direction in this crisis, for such simple, unheralded gestures heal more than a tweet read by thousands.

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from the Child AbuseProtection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).

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