Part-time celibacy: The story of Zelda

By a Broken Rites researcher

The Catholic Church in Australia has made an out-of-court compensation settlement with a Melbourne woman ("Zelda") who was sexually abused by a priest for several years from the age of 15, resulting in the birth of two children (a son and a daughter).

This priest was a member of an Australia-wide religious order (the Blessed Sacrament Fathers). While in Melbourne, he was working as a chaplain at a major Catholic hospital.

The woman contacted Broken Rites Australia in 2002, six years after her compensation settlement. The woman (Broken Rites refers to her as "Zelda" — not her real name) said she wanted other women to know the risks of being sexually abused by clergy.

Broken Rites arranged for Zelda to talk to a reporter from the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper, which then published her story. Zelda asked Broken Rites and the Herald Sun not to publish the priest's name, because of the parenting role that he had played in her family. Broken Rites knows the priest's name and we have verified his career details as a member of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers.

Broken Rites is reprinting Zelda's story here on this website for archival purposes — as another example of "part-time celibacy".

Priest fathered children by teen
Herald Sun, Melbourne, 5 June 2002

ARCHBISHOP George Pell counselled a Melbourne woman who fell pregnant to a priest when she was 15.

A year after the meeting, the woman signed a compensation agreement with the church which stipulated she not divulge information about her ordeal.

The agreement was signed in July 1996, the year Dr Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne.

The woman told the Herald Sun she'd had two children to the priest in the late 1960s. He was the Catholic chaplain in a major Melbourne hospital and ran youth groups.

She said they first met when she was a troubled 15-year-old and he'd taken her confession. The priest was in his 30s.

They began having sex and she fell pregnant to him, but miscarried.

Four years later they had a son, and within 12 months a daughter.

The woman's revelations yesterday came as the Catholic Church continued to fend off calls for a public independent inquiry into sex assaults by priests and alleged cover-ups.

Recalling their relationship yesterday, the woman said: "At the beginning, he took on a father image; but looking back now, I know I'd taken on the wrong person.

"He was having some problems himself. He was like an escaped person from a cage."

She said when the sex started, he'd told her that was how God would've wanted her to be helped.

"Everything he said, I believed," she said.

In 1967, at 19, she became pregnant for the second time. She said the priest encouraged her to have an abortion, as did some of the hierarchy within his religious order.

"I refused and went off and had the child. It was a boy, but he ended up with cerebral palsy, then developed muscular dystrophy," she said.

The boy, who was fostered out, struggled through life and died at the age of 17.

"Soon after the birth the guilt had caught up with him and he contacted me," she said.

"He told me he loved me, that he'd support me and that he'd leave the church. I didn't believe it, but I felt sorry for him."

They immediately reunited and within months she was pregnant again.

"Six weeks into my pregnancy he began to physically abuse me and then left me," she said.

"He went to Perth and two years later left the church and married."

The woman said after the birth of her daughter, the priest and his wife offered to adopt the child, but this was refused.

The woman later married and had five children.

But she says she never recovered from her ordeal and the marriage ended.

She then sought assistance from the church, first writing to then Melbourne Archbishop Sir Frank Little, who in 1995 referred her to Dr Pell, an auxiliary bishop.

"I was desperate. I wasn't handling life at all and I'd tried suicide, alcohol and other things to try to forget," she recalled.

"I had an audience with Pell and I wished that meeting had not happened -- it was terrible."

She said she'd told Dr Pell about the pregnancies, including the time she was only 15 -- below the age of consent.

"He was so cold and disbelieving. He told me I should get over it. It made things 10 times worse, and from then on I was going nowhere."

The woman said police were never told the priest had been involved in under-age sex.

In 1996, an agreement was struck with the religious order awarding her $75,000 on the basis she'd suffered psychological and emotional damage "as a consequence of alleged unlawful sexual acts", allegedly as a result of her relationship with the priest.

Under the agreement, the religious order and the priest do not admit responsibility. A condition of the payment was that the church and priest be released from any further or future action.

The woman is also bound not to disclose information about the relationship. If the agreement is breached, she has to repay the money.

The agreement was not part of the process established by Dr Pell in 1996 to deal with sex abuse compensation claims.

The woman said yesterday she was not deterred from speaking out now.

"It's just cover-up money. I don't care now, except for the daughter," she said.

"The lies have made me angry and I just want to sit in front of Pell, eyeball-to-eyeball.

"Then I'd tell him that it was time he repented."

A spokesman for Dr Pell did not provide a response to the Herald Sun.

  • That is the end of the Herald Sun article. At the time of the Herald Sun article in 2002, this priest was in his seventies, suffering from Alzheimer's disease and living in a Perth nursing home.
  • For another example of the church's problem of "part-time celibacy", see a Broken Rites article about a different female victim, "Jane"