A female victim was later re-victimised by the church authorities

By a Broken Rites researcher

A schoolgirl (named Joan) was sexually abused by a Catholic priest, Father Francis Edward (Frank) Derriman when she was 14 and 15. Later (when she was an adult) she was victimised again by the church's controversial Towards Healing system. Meanwhile, this priest left his parish job and eventually gained a university position, supervising Social Work students whose careers might include (of all things!) child protection. In December 2013, aged 60, Joan gave evidence at a public hearing of Australia's national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Joan explained how Towards Healing acted as a "front" for the church-owned insurance business, Catholic Church Insurances Limited.

The December 2013 hearings, which went for ten days, examined four examples in the operation of Towards Healing, and the Father Derriman case was one of these. Joan spoke forcefully from the witness box, later receiving a standing ovation from a large number of observers (including Broken Rites representatives) in the public gallery.

Joan, born in 1953, told the royal commission that, when she was aged 14 and 15 in 1967 and 1968,  she was one of a group of teenage children abused by Father Frank Derriman while he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Brisbane and chaplain of the Sacred Heart Convent girls' school at Sandgate in Brisbane. Derriman was then aged 28 and 29 years.

Father Derriman called the group the ''Brown'' family after the Peanuts comic character Charlie Brown, giving each of them a new name from characters in the Peanuts comics.

Joan said that Father Derriman formed this new Brown family to weaken her ties with her own family. Derriman “softened” her up for sex by making her read the novel Lolita and talking about sex during Confession. He referred to nuns “in a sexual manner”, she said.

Joan said Derriman molested her “in my home, my bedroom, his car and the presbytery”.  He stalked her when she tried to break away from him.

Father Derriman told Joan that he was suffering from a fatal lung condition and that he needed to have sex before he died. He said that he and Joan would have intercourse when she turned 16. Therefore, Joan was "terrified of being 16, to the point of suicidal", she told the royal commission.

Joan said Derriman molested her friends, too, and he made one of them pregnant at 17.

In 1968, Joan's mother accompanied her to report the abuse to a senior priest (at Brisbane's Zillmere parish), who then passed the complaint on to Brisbane's Archbishop. Soon after this complaint, the church authorities merely transferred Derriman to a new parish. That is, the church ignored his abuse and gave him easy access to more children in his next parish.

The royal commission was told that in 1970 Frank Derriman walked away from his parish position (without actually resigning) after getting one of Joan's friends pregnant. He then married this pregnant girl and left Queensland to work in non-church occupations. (The relationship with the pregant girl turned out to be not a permanent one.)

He eventually joined the staff of the University of Ballarat, in Victoria, where his role included supervising the students in the Social Work course (some of these students were later to work in child protection). 

How Derriman was brought to justice

After the late 1960s, Joan remained silent about her sexual abuse for more than 20 years, because of her loyalty to the church, but in the 1990s some things began to change her mind. At age 40, she was still feeling the hurt and suffering of the abuse and the cover-up.

Also, in the 1990s, when she was a teacher in Catholic schools,  she discovered that that another paedophile priest, Father McKeirman, was deputy director of Catholic education. McKeirman was the same age as Derriman, and the pair had been trainee priests in the seminary around the same time. McKeirnan was eventually jailed for sexual abuse of boys.

And in the 1990s (more than 20 years after Derriman got Joan's 17-year-old friend pregnant), Joan saw Frank Derriman on a beach with a different young woman and a child. Joan had “terrible thoughts of ... the future of the child he was with".

In 1994, when she was 40, Joan contacted the detectives in Taskforce Argos (the sexual abuse unit of the Queensland Police) in Brisbane, telling them about what Derriman had done to her as a child.

In 1997, police located Frank Derriman in Ballarat, Victoria. (By now, he was in a relationship with a different woman, not the pregnant girl from Queensland.) He was extradited to Queensland to face charges of indecent dealing with a minor (that is, Joan). The prosecution was based on two incidents which occurred between April and August in 1968, when Joan was 15. Derriman pleaded not guilty and underwent a jury trial in Brisbane in December 1998 (when he was aged 60).

Prosecutor Sal Vasta told the court that, as soon as the girl told her family about these incidents, her parents complained to the church authorities. The prosecutor added: "But, as the church did in those days, the complaint was swept under the table and Derriman was transferred."

The jury found Derriman guilty. Sentencing Derriman, Judge Fred McGuire said that Derriman had perpetrated a "gross betrayal of priestly trust" and that "the proverbial chickens have finally come home to roost".

The judge told Derriman: "It was an unequal relationship. You were a priest and she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl. It has had a severe and continuing effect on her life."

The judge sentenced Derriman to an immediate jail sentence of 12 months, with the right to apply for release on parole after serving four months behind bars. The court proceedings were reported in the Brisbane Courier Mail on December 8-11 in 1998, where he was described as "a social worker and university teacher at Ballarat in Victoria".

Derriman in 2013

The royal commission was told that, in 2013 (15 years after his jailing), Frank Derriman still holds the rank of a priest, according to the rules of the Catholic Church. The church has never bothered to strip him of his priestly status, even though he has been a child molester. Officially, in 2013 he is "a Catholic priest without a parish".

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge told the royal commission that he has recently initiated steps at the Vatican to have Francis Edward Derriman removed from the priesthood. But this is too late to protect the children who had this paedophile priest inflicted on them by the Catholic Church in the 1960s.

In 2013, at the time of the royal commission, Frank Derriman is living in a Melbourne eastern suburb. On 16 December 2013, News Limited media outlets published a photograph of Frank Derriman, taken in 2013, aged in his mid-seventies, in the street outside his Melbourne home. An accompanying article quoted Father Martin Doyle, of Brisbane, as saying he believes that Derriman's relationship with his pregnant Brisbane bride of 1970 is over.

"Towards Healing"

The remainder of this article is about how Joan was treated by the church authorities after the jailing of Derriman.

In 1997, the Catholic Church in Australia established its "Towards Healing" program, inviting the church's sex-abuse victims to tell their story to church representatives, to receive pastoral care with the possibility of financial reparation. In 1998, Joan contacted Towards Healing in Brisbane, expecting some "healing" from the church to which she had stayed loyal, despite her awful experiences.

She told Towards Healing that she wanted the apology -  not just for her abuse but for the church's failure to act against the priest even though she and others had reported him while they were still at school and subsequently.

"This inaction meant that other people went on to suffer greatly because Frank Derriman continued to abuse children," she said.

A church representative advised Joan to engage a lawyer to help her case, although previously she had not intended to do so.

Joan was told that her husband could not attend facilitation meetings with her, and she was not informed until the process was over that the church’s representative in attendance did not have the authority to offer anything except an expression of sorrow.

The insurance company

During the Towards Healing process, Joan found that the church authorities in Brisbane were evasive and dismissive towards her.

According to evidence given to the royal commission, the church's approach to Joan was dictated by its insurer, Catholic Church Insurances Limited (CCI), which provides a limited amount of compensation to victims. A letter from CCI to Bishop John Gerry, before a meeting with Joan said that any apology should be in the form of “expressing sorrow” only and “avoid any suggestions the archdiocese is itself responsible for the action of the priest”.

The insurer's letter to the bishop said: “It should be remembered that if [Joan] resorts to legal representation, she forfeits the right to your continuing to offer pastoral communication”.

The insurer also dictated what to say if the question arose as to why the church's delegate at the meeting, Reverend Adrian Farrelly, had no authority to negotiate compensation. They were to “refer to the principle that the monies held by the Archdiocese are the property of the Catholic community, held in trust” with “formal procedures” governing their disbursement.

The settlement document

A long and painful period of negotiations followed. During this lull, in 2000, Joan began telling other people about how the church authorities had been evasive towards her in the Towards Healing program. Her outspoken remarks evidently were noticed by the church authorities, who took steps to silence Joan.

In July 2001, Joan was finally offered compensation (to be paid by the insurance company). However, this compensation was only to be available on the condition that Joan signed a silence contract, preventing her from making any disparaging comments about any member of the church, priests bishops, archbishops, servants, volunteers, advisors (past and present and future). Furthermore, the church threatened that any breaches of the conditions of this contract would bring extremely serious legal consequences for Joan. And the settlement would prevent Joan from ever discussing the matters of the abuse with any person (even her husband and children), for the remainder of her life.

Joan vigorously opposed these conditions. She tendered expert evidence from her psychologist that being unable to talk about her abuse was not in her best interest.

The church's lawyers threatened Joan in a letter that, if she rejected the terms of the settlement, the church would seek a legal order requiring Joan to pay the church's legal costs (that is, the church's legal costs in fighting and defeating Joan). Furthermore, if Joan rejected the offer, she would be required to pay legal costs for her own lawyer out of her own bank account, without the benefit of a compensation payout.

Joan therefore was forced to surrender and she signed the church's settlement document on 10 August 2001.

“I was utterly defeated and decided to accept the offer and get out of this terrible situation,” Joan told the royal commission.

However, this settlement meant that she was still being controlled by the institution which facilitated and covered up her abuse.

Joan told the royal commission: "The silencing holds the same power and control over me that was used by Father Derriman when he abused me as a child."

The payout

Under the settlement, Joan was offered a relatively small payment of $30,000 (from the insurance company) on condition that she gave up her right to sue the church in the civil courts for a more appropriate amount. (This $30,000 offer is merely a fraction of what the church would have to pay if the church abandoned its practice of blocking the victims in the civil courts.) Most of the $30,000 was wiped out by Joan's legal and medical costs.

The church declined to add any church money to the insurance company's $30,000, despite the archdiocese having access to about $154 million in a "development fund", the  Royal Commission was told.

The church offered Joan 10 sessions with a psychologist but she had to repeatedly chase up the Brisbane archdiocese to get the the church to send send its payments to the psychologist.

The "apology"

In Catholic Church Insurances Limited documents tendered in evidence, CCI manager Laurie Rolls wrote "I instructed Bishop (John) Gerry to remove from that letter" the words "I am sorry that you were not believed when you told other priests what had happened to you."

That particular sentence did not subsequently appear in the formal apology which Joan received from Bishop Gerry, the commission heard.

A church employee (Bernadette Rogers, who was the church's "facilitator" in Joan's Towards Healing case) agreed (in evidence to the royal commission) that the Towards Healing process for Joan amounted to “re-abuse”, lacking in both justice and compassion.

Ms Rogers also agreed that there was no “justice” in Towards Healing in any legal sense. “The word justice is difficult to fit into this protocol," she said.

When her Towards Healing ordeal was over in 2001, Joan and her husband told their parish priest they could no longer continue their many years of donations to its programs because of the way they had been treated. The priest told them: ''The bishop said that you shouldn't have brought a lawyer to the meeting, because it changed everything''.

Joan said that she and her husband have stopped going to church.

Impact of the abuse

Joan told the royal commission she had needed to stand up before the commission ''because I needed to be free of these chains before I die''. She said she had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts throughout her life. From being a top student her results deteriorated so much she struggled to get employment qualifications.

“There’s a time in your life when you have to stand up for what is right and that time for me is now,” Joan said.

“When the royal commission started this was one of the reasons that I needed to stand up because I needed to be free of those chains before I died.”

Joan's shocking evidence and bravery in speaking out drew gasps from the packed public gallery in Sydney and she left the witness box to loud applause.


Broken Rites has a policy of not identifying any victims. Joan, however, authorised the the media to publish her full name, which is Joan Isaacs. And we are pleased to publish the full name of Father Francis Edward (Frank) Derriman.