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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: A priest got me too

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Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: A Priest Got Me Too – File photo

I was raised a Catholic. I grew up going to church at least once a week. During my early years the Catholic community were an integral part of my life. My mother was widowed at just 27 and the church stepped in with a significant pastoral role in our lives. A nun who taught me as a little girl gave me a letter to tell me that of all the children she had known I was the one that she thought of most often. It was actually very beautiful loving letter written by a childless woman who had felt a strong maternal love for me. I wish I still had it.

When I was selected to play basketball for Queensland, it was the Catholic ladies who baked lamingtons and raised money so I could go to the national championships in Perth. We were poor, and without their kindness I would never have been able to go. On school holidays I would spend two weeks each year volunteering in the kitchen of the Catholic summer school where I’d peel potatoes and make tapioca pudding for the 100 or more kids who went to state schools and were interned to get their sacraments.

When I was eight I wanted to be a nun. Partly because of my faith, and partly because I wanted to be like Sally Field in the Flying Nun, meet a Greek millionaire and be able to fly. I read the Bible. I prayed regularly to my glow in the dark Jesus. Priests were regular visitors to our family home. I trusted them. With no father figure in my life, they were often the closest thing I had to contact with an adult man.

When I was 16, a priest came to our parish for a short stay, and he quickly made himself known to my mother. It was only a matter of weeks before he became a regular at our house. I was 16, my mother was 36. He would have been in his early thirties. He was charming and worldly and incredibly charismatic. He told me that in a few months when I finished school and moved to Brisbane to go to university that I should get in contact and he would show me around, as I would be a country girl on her own in the ‘big city’ with no friends.

So I did. It was nice, because being in the city was incredibly lonely at first, and the priest showed me warmth and connection. We had fun together. He took me to galleries, to restaurants, and eventually he took me to an apartment at the Gold Coast and seduced me. I had just turned 17. I was a year younger than my son, who is in year 12, is now. When I think about what happened and how young I was the adult in me is appalled.

At the time I didn’t know what to make of it. He was older than me, he was a priest, and as a girl with no knowledge of men I trusted him. It did, however, make me feel a bit sick. This Lolita-like priest relationship continued for six months and included some pretty sordid situations, including once where he invited another man to participate. I don’t know who the man was and I only have flashes of recollection, as I was falling in and out of consciousness. I don’t know why.

Not long after this he cried, told me he was gay and I never saw him again. I didn’t go to church anymore. I had told no one about the priest. I was ashamed.

What I was ashamed of most was how I didn’t seem to be able to say no to him. I was coming into my sexuality and I enjoyed sex. That made me feel guilty and wrong. What I felt, I now know, is what a young person feels when an adult uses power over them. Sure, I wasn’t legally a child anymore, I was over 16, but as a fatherless girl alone in the city I was particularly vulnerable. Something that made me the perfect candidate for his grooming. A beautiful young girl with no understanding of men but a deep desire to be loved by one.

I still feel the shame when I write this, even though rationally I know that I was a young person who was taken advantage of by a sexual predator. A priest. Someone whom I trusted because he came from an institution that had been part of my life since I was small. An institution that was supposed to keep me and the children in its care safe. Instead, it put me and so many others in the sights of predatory abusers.

I understand why victims of abuse take so long to tell their story. The shame is like an invisible gun to the head that demands your silence. I actually feel scared writing this, so I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken to bring down the third highest ranking Catholic in the world.

I want to delete this and write about George Pell. That’s what I set out to do. But there’s nothing I can say about him that hasn’t been said with more clout and fury by journalists with more esteem and higher profiles than me. What I can do though, is tell this story, so that every disgusting sexual predator, paedophile and abuser within the Catholic church knows that the gun of shame is gone, and we are coming for them. All of them. And the Catholic Church, if it wants to exist beyond this, needs to shake the rotten fruit from the tree, accept responsibility and ask for forgiveness. It needs open conversations and transparency. It needs truth.

Remember David and Goliath? Little people can take on giants and win. So load those slingshots with your stone of truth and take aim at the Catholic Church. There’s a lot of giants to fell.

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  1. Mandy I can only imagine how hard all this has been for you. I hope your courage in sharing your story will help the healing for yourself & is contagious in helping others find that courage & healing also.

  2. Thank you. I was in the same situation. Took me 30 years to speak up. My family disowned me completely. They ensure that I don’t even see the grand-children. So thank you for speaking up so bravely.

  3. Thank you again, Mandy, for your openness and immense courage. It most 100% is a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s them’. We love you.

  4. Mandy your words and story just knocked me over. Sorry that they did this to you. We all stand with you and the other boys and girls and young adults that the churches have used for there own pleasure. As a gay man I have to stand up to ensure that other peoples rights are also reached and protected with the criminals removed from our society.

  5. Keen to know his name and bring him to justice!!!!! My crazy mother used to say to my brother and I when we set out for school ‘Don’t talk to any priests, nuns or rabbis. They all want to Rape You.’ We didn’t know what ‘rape’ meant, and she assured it was something horrible that we didn’t want. Fast forward 50+ years, I arrive to visit my folks retired in Florida and my mother thrusts the front page of her bible, The New York Times, in my face and exclaims – ‘see, I was right. You all laughed at me.” It was the headline story about the scum paedophile priests/Catholic church in Boston, basis for the film ‘Starlight’!

  6. Very brave of you to tell us all this horrendous story, I take my hat of to you and sincerely hope telling your story helps you to heal.

  7. You are one of the bravest women i have had the pleasure to meet ,its so sad that you and many other women get violated by men in robes,uniforms, polititions,sports people and ALL get always with it ,,,,,so proud of you telling you sad story,,,xxxooo

  8. Mandy: Thanks for sharing your story. It’s one that is far too common.

    I, too, was sexually abused by religious (Methodist, Baptist, Anglican) from age 11 or 12.

    Unfortunately, it’s more than a case of removing rotten fruit from the barrel – the entire barrel is rotten to the core.

    When people claim to be representatives of god (any god) they and their institutions place themselves in a position of power over the powerless. Until the entire nonsense of god-ness goes away (well, one *can* hope for the impossible!) the potential for such abuse remains.

    People are welcome to believe the fairytale/s of their choice, and I respect their right to do so, but that doesn’t oblige me to respect the beliefs themselves; I have nothing but utter contempt for organised religion.

    Perhaps the best one can hope for is that churches and other religious bodies are opened to the entirety of civil law – no exceptions! – and that they be taxed and accountable just like any other money-making corporation.

    And to those who claim that religion has done a lot of good for the world (“charity”, wonderful artistic and musical creations) I ask: Was it worth the cost of millions of ruined lives?

    • Gordon. I agree that churches have waged ware and accumulated wealth and power in the name of ‘God’. Many of us have a need to strive towards and respect Goodness, and that has been abused by many so called ‘religious’ people for millenia.

      We need to think of humanism as the basis for Christianity, and to honour the importance of nature. Without nurturing others and plants,animals,and maintaining the ecology of soil, water and air, we are doomed as a species.

      ‘God’ is cognate with ‘Good’. For me, eternal life is the passing on of the above values to others as my parents did to me. May you delight in the sight of the birds and the lizards. And may random kindness greet you from time to time.

    • As difficult as this was for you Mandy I’m sure you will not regret opening up about it. Proud and strong is what comes from this. I was also brought up Catholic and although I wasn’t sexually abused, I was abused. I have a very similar view as Gordon Balfour Haynes and would rejoice at the complete dismantling of religious institutions. We have allowed these people to profess that they represent god on earth, what a load of rubbish! Just a bunch of lazy, bored and misguided men who pay no tax and bludge off society while they prey on vulnerable people.

  9. Wow Mandy, that story took my breath away. Such a sad story. You are one brave woman.

    And it really gives insight on how hard it is for someone not as eloquent and confident as you are to come out and admit abuse by an older man. And why so many never do.

    We owe every survivor who talks a big debt of gratitude for speaking out and reducing the chances of it happening to another generation

  10. My mother was the illegitimate daughter of man who was from an influential Catholic family in Melbourne. At the moment I am thanking God she WASN’T raised a Catholic and as a result we escaped that particular insidious form of indoctrination. As usual your honesty and candour is a breath of fresh air. Keep on telling the truth!
    Tracey D

  11. Mandy, your brave story is very well written. No doubt it will help others, especially those who were not believed. Your writing will help many to better understand how this stuff happens, and why people do not speak of it.

    Health and happiness to you and yours.

  12. Such a melancholy story written with grace and courage. I am sure I speak for many readers in thanking you for sharing it with us. With sincere best wishes for your future peace and happiness.

  13. So moved by your story Mandy, so appreciate your courage and eloquence. Thank you for sharing a very difficult story. Much love to you xxx

  14. Thank you for for open hearfull sharing Mandy. I really appreciate it.
    When I was 15 holidaying in the Gold Coast a 36 year old man tried to tape me. Yes he got my pants down and was in process of penetration.
    i became savage fighting for my life and spontaneously started to rip him apart.. He gave up and left the scene.
    I felt so suprised and victorious
    I was lucky unlike many women who have been scared

  15. Thank you for your courage to speak so eloquently about what happened to you Mandy, imagine if everyone who had been abused could come out and speak about it, we would Really know the full extent of it , and our prisons would probably start to overflow ! Thank you ……David Young

  16. Today the government is still funding the Catholic and Anglican churches placing needy children with them.
    the local member boasted about giving the Casino Catholic school $3 million. The school’s former headmaster was jailed for abuse.

  17. I know you feel scared dear heart, but you are braver than you think. Thank you for finding the courage to share this. A selfless gift to others. X

  18. I am so sorry and sad that this happened to you Mandy. No one on earth deserves this. I only hope your honesty and bravery will be a good support for someone else that may need it. Best wishes to you always.

  19. Dearest Mandy, you are the bravest person l know! So sorry to hear your story. I too was raised a Catholic but the never was abused by clergy. I am sickened by what has been brought to light with Pell et all. Thousands of clergy globally and tens of thousands of victims! How could any Catholic be proud to be part of that church?
    I hope it goes bankrupt paying compensation to victims. Wouldn’t that be amazing!
    Then maybe it can gain my respect again.

  20. Well done Mandy for speaking out.
    I grew up in Mullumbimby as a Protestant & always felt safe with our Ministers of religion as a child.
    I am sad that didn’t happen to you & many thousands of Others.

  21. I am so sorry that you had that experience at the hands of a wicked man, Mandy. Surprisingly, I grew up Catholic, priests visited our home regularly but never ever did one treat me with anything but respect. What’s more, I never knew a priest of that type. Every one has been a good & holy man committed to the role he was ordained for. There are many, many priests who do not and do not act in that manner but are suffering because of the wicked actions of others. All the apples are not bad.

  22. Wow. The hatred bitterness rancour and bigotry. That couldn’t only emanate from other would appear mostly females and most generally from the left. …Oh and btw, If you could for a second pause while your ignorantly bashing the the followers of jesus and their respective houses, spare a thought for the local Christian house of god that lent there community hall to a group who raised thousands of dollars for brain cancer a few weeks ago. Free of charge. And spare a thought for the many many way more children who were sexualy physically and psychologically abused in your own beloved state run institutions than ever were in any Christian run organisations. Or for that matter within families. Next stop jew hate Junction?

  23. Thank you Mandy for sharing your story.
    Your courage gives so much hope to others, to stand for our own rights as human beings.
    Abuse, any abuse should be dealt with the full force of the law.
    You’ve got my vote if you ever wish to stand politically.
    You are a legend.

  24. Mandy and all others; I am still shaking from reading your brave exposition. I cannot claim to have any knowledge of the crimes of others, I have only my own demons to play with.

    The fact that some individuals within power structures have been set up as both moral and temporal guardians guarantees them total control over the minds, souls and lives of their emotionally and spiritually charged followers. This always leads to abuse of power.

    All religions should take a new look at the ways they perform so-called ‘God’s Work’.

    One day it will be realised that inventing powerful, invisible friends in the sky to control our lives has a detrimental effect on sanity and the sanctity of Life.

  25. Thanks for the bravery in the telling of this awful experience Mandy. I too was brought up in a strict Catholic family and the priest was considered almost God like in our parish. As far as I know our Father Coffee was an example of a wonderful minister of the church – gentle, humble and kind. I hope that was true.
    However I was babysitting my cousins in Wollongong on one occasion and their local priest arrived unannounced after all the adults had gone out. He ate dinner there at least once a week and was revered by my uncle and aunt and the kids. I was 16 at the time and felt uncomfortable as he stayed on and kept pulling my 4 year old cousin high onto his lap, caressing him constantly. I didn’t know why it felt “ÿukky” but it did and my little cousin squirmed and tried to get down but he held him hard. However on this occasion the predator that he obviously was did not win. His name was Father Bernato and eventually Paul leapt off his lap, turned to him and said “I HATE you Father Tomato!” His siblings were horrified but I was thrilled at his bravery and it did make the priest/predator take off in a hurry. When his big brother told on him the next day that little boy was in terrible trouble with his father and punished severely. I can only hope that ended the physical threat by that “man of the cloth”.
    Sadly the power of the men of the church was too much for most victims such as yourself – but now it is the victims’ time to have the power!!

  26. Im not totally clear here.. did he force you to have sex? I don’t get that message.
    Or is it the age of you or him at the time that is the primary issue? If he was 17 or 18 or 25 or 30 would it have been different? If you were 18 and not 17 would it have been different?
    A priest is a simply a man so I’m trying be clear on the specific offense here. Perhaps it’s that the idolisation of the clergy was dispelled. Most girls have had sex by the time they’re 18 so I presume it’s not underage sex you’re concerned with.
    I totally get there is a power play in relationships but you will find that everywhere. And in the end it looks like you had the upper hand.

  27. How can it be, a priest simply a man isn’t he supposed to be celibate and are we not supposed to trust him, the hypocrisy of the church amazes me, mind you this has been going on for over thousands of years, depraved popes and all the other nonsense in the name of God and church.
    When I was sixteen I also was vulnerable and as all the ladies will remember there where quite a lot not charming and charming predators we had to deal with

  28. Good on you Mandy for letting courage become stronger than your shame. I hope it helps you in not hiding it anymore and plants the seeds for others to speak up. The truth does help to set you free. Thanks for sharing your truth. Hugs Odette

  29. You didnt say if you are pursuing him. I want to for you , coming from my maternal protective rescuing instinct. But I guess pursuing it involves another step,and a lot of time. You wouldnt have been his only victim.

  30. Don’t be a creep Roger. Mandy was seduced by a man who should/would have known the power he could have over a vulnerable girl. People who are older can and do take advantage of this. Abusing vulnerable people who do not say no or even encourage the interaction is totally wrong. The abuser knows it and they should resist the temptation. I was a very fit and active 25yo teaching 17/18/19 year olds and had many situations which could have gone down the path of seduction, but I had understood this could occur and had made a pact with myself prior to stepping into the classroom to negate gently any advances that came my way, and successfully came through teaching 6 years later with a clean slate as it were. I have patted myself on the back ever since as there were some severely ‘testing’ times. I feel sure those students benefitted from the sympathetic response to their advances and my reasons for not participating. I’m hopeful it prevented them making that mistake with other older men.

    • Peter,
      Your should have, would have, sounds like moralizing to me. I was asking a fair question but because I don’t preface with a lot of stroking I’m a creep? And this contributes to the discussion in what way?
      It’s good to know you are sure what is right for everyone else. Unfortunately people and relationships aren’t that simple and such black and white statements are ironically archaic.

  31. Mandy,
    This is a very brave story to commit not only to paper but to a newspaper. But we all know you are a brave soul. Well done.
    These sickening experiences are what go to make us the people we are, so don’t regret it, it is all part of your journey. You turned out just fine! One good thing: at least you didn’t get pregnant from it! xx

  32. Awesome Mandy!

    Bringing shame into the light takes away the ‘power over’ of the abuser, which often continues long after the crime.

    It takes great courage to break this pattern and this eloquent piece showed that in spades. I feel very moved that you have shared this personal story rather than railing against Pell, and showed such vulnerability in doing so.

    All power to you Mandy and to all who tell their story, and by doing so reclaim the ending as their own!!

    As Brené Brown’s TED talk describes, Mandy has stormed the arena, and owned it!

    Love and Blessings to the Courageous !


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