The Age (Australia), Aug. 29, 2002
By Greg Roberts
The Catholic Church has distanced itself from allegations that children were sexually and physically abused over three decades at one of Queensland’s best known church institutions.
A former student at Nazareth House in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Wynnum claimed yesterday that two nuns at the former church orphanage had sexually interfered with several girls on many occasions.
“They would strip them and rub Vicks into their private parts, telling them they had to do that to get their puberty hair to grow,” said Bobbie, who asked that her full name not be published. “They would push broomsticks and flag sticks into them, saying that they were trying to get the devil out of them.”
Bobbie was one of 17 women who have lodged claims in the Queensland Supreme Court against the church’s Brisbane Archdiocese and the Sisters of Nazareth order, which operates Nazareth House. One former male student has also lodged a claim.
The claims cover the period from the early 1940s to the early 1970s. Nazareth House has been a retirement village since the mid-1980s. Most of the complainants have been offered cash to settle out of court. Bobbie said she had not decided whether to accept $65,000 she was offered. “What I really want is for them to admit that it happened and that it was wrong, but they won’t. That’s what we really need for our spirits to heal.”
Bobbie said a guinea pig had been put down one girl’s pants; the girl was forced to leave it there while it bit and scratched her genitalia for several minutes.
She said that on one occasion, she had been hung naked by her wrists for several hours. She and other girls were held in a small dark cell for two or more days without food or toilet facilities.
In a statement of claim, another woman said she had suffered systematic beatings and assaults of various kinds by nuns. The woman claimed she had her face rubbed in a urine-soaked sheet until her nose bled, had been made to kiss dead bodies, and been fed food infested with bugs.
Another woman said she had been left alone in the company of a priest, who had sexually assaulted her.
The woman said she was regularly told that the devil would “turn into a dog and tear my throat out”.
She said that once when she had been forced to eat food which was so bad that she vomited, she was forced to eat her vomit.
Another woman claimed she had been forced to eat the faeces of one of the nuns who was sexually assaulting girls.
The Chancellor of the Brisbane Archdiocese, James Spence, said responsibility for the children rested with the Sisters of Nazareth. “The archdiocese had no involvement in the day-to-day running of the orphanage,” Father Spence said.
“The archdiocese acknowledges with deep regret the distress felt by former residents of Nazareth House.”
The Sisters of Nazareth’s regional supervisor, Clare Breen, said emotional and financial support was being offered to the complainants, but this did not mean that the order accepted that their claims are true.
“We’re very sad that some of these girls still have these unhappy memories,” Sister Breen told ABC Radio.
“We have financed a number of girls to have counselling. We feel that is what the girls have asked us to do and that is what we have done.”