Eight years after a Hunter Valley priest was sent to jail for sexually abusing a young boy, his mother has released a detailed account of the tragedy her family lived through.
‘Holy Hell’ tells the story from a mother’s point of view, as Patricia Feenan and her family dealt with the criminal trial of Father James Patrick Fletcher, the priest who abused her eldest son.
“I hope they get an understanding of the impact of abuse on the victim and the victim’s family and the enormous pain that he and then us had to go through. I hope the non-believers who ostracized us maybe read the book and think, have some sympathy for Daniel and other victims.”
Yesterday’s launch was perfectly timed, with the Royal Commission into child sex abuse announced only a few weeks ago.
“I hope there is an effective investigation into all the issues in the clergy and other institutions of sexual abuse. I hope there are recommendations made and I hope they are able to be followed through and carried out and we can move forward and regain the trust that people have obviously lost in the church.”
Crowds at the launch
A trust Patricia says she lost, but is now hoping to regain.
“I reflect now on the last line of the our father, the lords prayer, which we all as a congregation recited each Sunday, ‘God deliver us from evil’. I had no idea that I was delivering my son to evil. Our darling little boy.”
“I want to trust the Catholic Church again, If you can’t trust your church then who can you trust? James Fletcher breached our trust and the trust of a little boy, he was appalling and it was criminal. He knew his intentions, he had done it before. The pain, the anguish of seeing your child in pain is palpable.”
The family asked to have the launch at the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese with Bishop Bill Wright in attendance to help the family move foreword.
Bishop Bill Wright and Detective Inspector Peter Fox
Detective Inspector Peter Fox started the journey with the family more than a decade ago when Daniel reported his abuse, and seemed the perfect fit to write the book’s foreword.
“This is the organisation that hurt them immensely…but here we have a victim’s family putting their hand out saying can we work with you again to make sure it doesn’t happen ever again to any one else.”
But entering the grounds wasn’t so easy for Daniel.
“I think it is fitting we have it here, it really shows Holy Hell, the book is a Catholic thing which is exactly what it was. But it is hard to be here today”
Daniel was only in Year 7 when the abuse started, continuing until he was in year 12.
In front of the packed crowd and Bishop Bill Wright, he spoke about how the institution lends itself to being, in his words, a “grooming process”.
” But when I was first abused I had a funny feeling that this was normal, this was what I was meant to do. I stood up, I knelt, I went up on the alter…I hit the bell. This was what was normal to me….but I realised very quickly this was not normal.”
“So I hope that’s given you a bit of background into the institution, how a grooming process it is. And I haven’t touched on coming over and having tea with the family or anything else. This was a normal part of your life.”
Personal threats kept Daniel from sharing his secret, and he only came forward when his youngest brother turned 18.
“So in my mind he was safe at the end of the day, because there was a lot of threats.”
“I think they just couldn’t believe they had a paedophile in their midst, probably didn’t want to believe it.” Patricia said. “Well we didn’t want to believe it either but it happened and we believed our son and the priest was found guilty on all charges and jailed and I hope people realise now that evil is around and we all want to move on.”
But when they finally did come forward it was Detective Inspector Peter Fox who helped the family throughout the trial.
” I think the more people who become aware of what’s gone on is really what has got behind the Royal Commission and just adding my voice to that call there have been many victims calling out for recognition of it from the inside for far too long.”
The book is not only about recalling the past, it was a therapeutic outlet for Patricia during the trial. On the advice on family and friends she had it published.
“It was traumatic, I made notes throughout the trial for my own sanity perhaps and I thought I would write the book to get it out of my head and as a true record for the family to have. It’s been completed for quite a few years. But about a year ago I gave it to a few different people to read and they urged me to get it published.”
“Just a message to support victims, believe them, walk with them and don’t make judgements.”
But reading the book was a different experience for Daniel.
“That was extremely hard.”
“There will be some closure today, definitely, like I said I can hold my head high, I’ve got to go back to work on Monday. So that’s the stage of life it gets to where people need to understand, it’s a long trip, there’s no doubt about that.” Daniel said.
And as for other victims, his advice is to come forward.
” I’ve had massive challenges, ups and downs in life, but at the end of the day I have a job, three children and you can make it work but it is hard. You do feel a lot better by getting it off your chest than by bottling it up at the end of the day. And people like Detective Inspector Peter Fox, if you happen to land someone like him, it makes the horrible task a lot easier. ”