Brave Catholic priest sex abuse survivor won't be silenced
ALMOST 50 years ago, a tall, fun loving and incredibly charismatic Catholic priest strolled into a Brisbane schoolroom where he began systematically destroying the heart, body and soul of a 14-year-old girl.
That girl was Joan Isaacs and, despite 49 years having passed, the memory of the day she met the man who would sexually assault her over and over again is crystal clear.
"He came into our class to give religious instruction," Ms Isaacs says of Francis Edward Derriman.
She pauses for a moment, her soft voice trembling slightly while her hands trace mindless patterns on the table in her spotless dining room.
"We'd had pretty boring religious instruction from the chaplains before that," Joan recalls.
"He really did appeal to us because he used modern music and cartoons, particularly Peanuts and Charlie Brown.
"He just made religion interesting."
Joan was raised a devout Catholic by hard-working immigrant parents.
The church's clergy were boring, stifling old men who rarely acknowledged Joan and her peers so when the youthful Derriman arrived on the scene in 1967, it was like a fresh breeze blowing the dust off their eager young minds.
She was a beautiful, slender, effervescent and studious young woman who had big dreams of being a teacher and who loved nothing more than listening to music and going to the movies with her friends.
Derriman was 10 years her senior when he started teaching religious instruction at the Sacred Heart secondary college in Sandgate.
With his thick black-framed glasses sitting awkwardly on his large ears, he was far from good looking.
His cheeks were fat and puffy, his eyes small and his receding hairline only enhanced the bulldog thickness of his heavy brow.
But what Derriman lacked in looks, he made up for with personality and an uncanny ability to know exactly what made adolescents tick.
He knew what kids feared and what they loved.
He talked eloquently about the sounds of 1960s music icons such as Peter, Paul and Mary; Donovan and Bob Dylan.
He quoted the likes of Plato and urged his young charges to talk about anything and everything during his classes.
Within weeks of arriving at Sacred Heart, Derriman was ingratiating himself into Joan's life, often visiting her home where he forged a strong friendship with her mum Gloria and dad Hubert.
"He was extremely charismatic," Joan says.
"He just had a way of making people feel that they really mattered and he always took notice of what they said.
"I felt he was intelligent, he just seemed like a nice person."
His endless abuse was so heinous that Joan could see no way out.
One night she locked her bedroom door and started cutting into the prominent veins on one of her wrists.
"I did what he said, I had no control, I was at the point of suicide because I knew my mind and my body were no longer my own," she says.
Somehow, Joan survived her suicide attempt and she decided it was time to share the burden.
She eventually confided in her friend Ian Isaacs, who would eventually become her husband.
Ian told Joan she would never be free of Derriman unless she told her parents.
"In those days you didn't go to the police," Joan recalls of her mum and dad's reaction.
"My mother took me to the doctor and I told him - I found it very hard to tell him but I did.
"I was medicated and that was it."
Joan and her mother then went to the priest in charge of the parish.
"He just didn't get it," Joan says of Derriman's superior's response to the abuse.
"I showed him one of Derriman's letters and he was quite shocked.
"Then he said to me 'But you've been going to holy communion, how come you've been going to holy communion?'
She asked the church for an official apology, payment of her ongoing counselling sessions and compensation.
The church refused to publicly apologise, but Archbishop John Gerry wrote her a letter saying he was "very moved" by her courage.
"I write … to say how sorry I am for what you have suffered at the hands of Frank Derriman," Archbishop Gerry wrote.
"You were taken advantage of in the most shameful way.
"The response made at the time was less than you could have expected.
"You have been let down badly by those from whom you had every right to expect more."
To add insult to injury, the church had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table when it came to covering the costs of Joan's psychology appointments.
After a year of negotiations, it eventually acquiesced and committed to pay for about 20 sessions in total.
The compensation battle was much harder and cost Joan and Ian every spare cent.
"My lawyer suggested take legal action and force the church and Derriman into paying compensation," Joan says.
"Then we found out the Catholic Church organised its funds in such a way that it can't be sued."
Joan had to withdraw her case and was left having to pay Derriman's legal costs of $10,000 and her own costs of $25,000.
"Then the church threatened me that if I didn't sign a contract (of silence) that I would have their costs awarded against me," she says.
"They were going to give me $30,000 but I'd have to sign the silence clause.
"We simply had no money left so I had to sign."
Joan was unable to talk about Derriman's abuse with anyone - not even her husband - for 12 long years after signing that contract.
But when the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse called for victims to come forward in 2013, Joan decided she would no longer carry the church's dirty secret.
She was the first person to give evidence against the Catholic Church.
The day before she was due to appear, the church sent her a letter saying it would lift the silence clause.
"At the time of the royal commission that man who abused me; that man who abused me was still a priest at the time of my appearance at the royal commission and I believe he is still a priest now," Joan says,.
"I've made inquiries about why he hasn't been defrocked and I'm told each time that it's extremely difficult to move
against a priest against his will.
"That's the answer I get every time."
Three years after her brave and compelling appearance before the royal commission, Joan has well and truly found the voice that the Catholic Church systematically silenced for almost five decades.
In July, her book To Prey and Silence was released to widespread acclaim.
The 505-page treatise is an astounding body of work, penned by a woman whose faith was ultimately destroyed by a brazen narcissistic predator and the church hierarchy that continues to protect him.
"For a long time I felt like a Catholic who didn't practise the religion," Joan says.
"But with what I know of the corruption in the church and everything that we found out about the church through the commission, I would never ever be a Catholic again.
"I still have a spiritual part of me but it's in the peace I find with nature and my family and the good people in this life.
"The good people are not in the hierarchy of the church - they are the people who preach to us about justice and compassion and doing what's right but there is no evidence that most of them have done this themselves.
"I could never ever be a part of a church like that again."
Joan says she holds no hope that the church will make amends for Derriman's abuse and even if it did she would struggle to believe.
"Because I've heard so many empty words from the church, I just wouldn't believe it anymore," she says.
Regardless of what the church does or doesn't do, Joan is determined to continue sharing her story for the sake of the clergy abuse survivors who may never find their own voices.
"I didn't have a lot of anger as a child but I had a lot of fear," Joan says.
"I've grown angrier over the years as I've seen how much the church has done to protect these people.
"I thought at the time it was an aberration but it's not an aberration.
"The Catholic Church is so full of this deceit and it seems to me those in the hierarchy are not there to protect the children because the children don't matter.
"The leaders are there to protect the awful, evil people who prey on children and that makes me angry and I won't be silenced any more. - ARM NEWSDESK