Dark reality of growing up Catholic
My heart broke on Tuesday.
Not because I feel any sympathy for George Pell. I don't. I will never shed a tear for him.
My chest felt heavy all day because two more poor souls have joined a club no one ever chooses to be part of, a tragic group of people from all walks of life, children, the disabled, nuns, in all corners of the globe, joined together by a common truth - their lives have been ruined by paedophile priests.
We are a club united by waves of shame, anger, worthlessness and guilt that wash over us when we least expect it, a club of people trying to run as fast as we can from the dark shadow that has haunted our lives.
I was abused by two priests.
My parents were devout Catholics, the Church was at the heart and soul of my family and my parent's proudest day was when I joined the convent and my twin brother Michael the priesthood.
Two children to the Church! God's glory shone down on my family.
I joined the Church to escape the abuse I'd endured by a priest in my teens, and also at the hands of my father. The convent offered a safe space, except it didn't.
After years of struggle and anguish, I confided my darkest secret to a priest who then took advantage of my incredibly vulnerable state. He knew I was emotionally weak and he preyed upon me. I blamed myself, punished myself, I believed I was a bad person and I was going straight to hell, it was all my fault. I left the Church soon after.
Many years later, my brother, Father Michael Aulsebrook was accused of abusing a child. I knew that child was telling the truth and it prompted me to finally contact the Church's Towards Healing.
I reported him and the two priests who'd abused me. Towards Healing investigated my claims and when confronted, one priest admitted what he had done and apologised. The second refused to acknowledge me.
Like many others, I never got my day in court.
The Church's well-paid lawyers made sure I knew my place in the world. It was "my word against his" and "he's a priest". I was an "unreliable witness" because I'd suffered a mental breakdown after leaving the Church, clearly, I was a "troubled girl". Who'd believe me?
They paid me a small amount of compensation to cover some treatment, but only after I signed a confidentiality agreement stating I would take no further action.
Both priests continued in their parishes after I'd made formal complaints and after I'd received a settlement from the Church. One is still actively involved in a parish today, despite his admission and despite the highest levels of the Church being made aware of my allegations.
My own brother, my beloved twin and my best friend is now in jail, convicted of abusing three children when he was a teacher at the Salesian's 'Rupertswood' College in the 1980s and 1990s. We know there are many more of his victims who've never had their day in court.
I still grieve the loss of the brother I thought I knew.
I feel a deep sense of grief for the victims of George Pell and their families, it takes the courage of a lion to speak up, especially against the ferocity of the billion-dollar Church.
And I feel overwhelming heartbreak for the victim who took his life. He denied he'd been abused. I denied I'd been abused too, for many years. I denied it, lied about it when asked and covered it up because I was so ashamed of what had happened to me.
That's why this week's verdict is so important. Not just for the victims of George Pell and their families, but also for the victims of other priests who've never had their day in court because they've been belittled and demeaned by the Church or because they are so broken by their abuse, they simply don't have one last ounce of fight left within them.
They are the "unreliable witnesses" who turned to drugs or alcohol to numb the constant flashbacks, or had breakdowns and require ongoing care because their poor souls have been shredded to the core. The victims the Church loves to tear torn apart on the witness stand.
This verdict is for them.
This verdict has given a voice to the voiceless. You have been heard. We believe you.
But how many more victims are there? Will we ever truly know how many have suffered abuse at the hands of this poisonous priesthood? Will we ever know the scale of cover-up that has enabled these paedophiles to get away with this behaviour for so long?
I guess it remains to be seen. But what I do know is that the victim who spoke up is a hero. He has selflessly put himself on the line to fight for justice. In doing so, he has given power to others who've suffered in silence, and for that there is simply no words other than - THANK YOU.