Kathleen Walsh. Picture: Shae Beplate.
Kathleen Walsh. Picture: Shae Beplate.

‘They did nothing’: The devastation caused by a predator

"THEY knew and they did nothing. The Catholic Church knew about what happened to me. I was 11 years old, I told them and they did nothing."

Kathleen Walsh was your typical 11-year-old Mount Isa girl. She loved Irish dancing, softball, swimming and playing the piano and was surrounded with friends.

She was a happy girl, bright and bubbly, someone who had lofty plans for her life, the kind of plans only a pre-teen, who isn't wise to the world around them, can have.

She looks back at that time in her life with a deep sadness. She imagines a life of endless opportunity, one of what could have been. The possibilities were endless.

But this life would never eventuate. Her world would be torn apart by a predator who had her in his sights. By a man she should have been able to trust.

A man of God.

Kathleen Walsh and her father James 'Jim' Walsh.
Kathleen Walsh and her father James 'Jim' Walsh.

This man was a predator, one who would later be considered one of the most prolific paedophiles in Queensland's history.

Father Neville Creen came to Mount Isa in 1973 after a stint in Charters Towers.

He was the newest priest to come to the northwest Queensland mining town, where faith was king.

The lives of Catholic families like the Walshes revolved around the church, school and sport.

It was the perfect place for a predator who wore the cloth. He could ingratiate himself into the community, into the lives of children. He could groom them and then molest them.

Ms Walsh was a 10-year-old student at St Joseph's Primary School. Neville Creen was the priest who delivered sermons, took confession and was seen throughout the mining town as a community leader.

The grooming and abuse began as a hug that lingered a little too long. A hand brushing across the 10 and then 11-year-old's chest or bottom, before Ms Walsh's life irrevocably changed forever while on a school camp.

Kathleen Walsh
Kathleen Walsh

"He took advantage of Mum being away in Grade 6 and making it seem like he was caring. Then he started in Grade 7, before the camp, he was touching me on the outside of my clothes. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't know how to verbalise, especially back then, kids were seen and not heard," Ms Walsh tells the Townsville Bulletin, the first time she has spoken about her abuse publicly.

The little girl who loved writing had lost track of time, she'd been out for too long. By the time she got to the shower block of the school camp on the outskirts of Mount Isa, she was alone.

She was only there a matter of minutes before she turned to see Creen standing behind her masturbating. Creen touched her chest and tried to force her to touch him.

Scared, this little girl mustered up courage from an unknown place and kicked the priest between the legs. When he dropped to the ground, she kicked him again.

It was 1977, she was 11 years old, running from the shower to find an adult to tell what had happened. Behind her on the ground, Creen yelled "bitch".

Kathleen Walsh and her sister.
Kathleen Walsh and her sister.

"I told a nun at the camp. I told her. I told her because I wanted to go home from the camp. She was angry at me. I felt sick, I'd been acting up, because he had been grooming me, I didn't know at the time, but it had been going on for 12 months. I was in Grade 6, I was 10 turning 11.

"She was angry at me. I know she knew something was wrong, she was demanding to know what was wrong and I didn't want to say, I just wanted her to get my dad and take me home.

"She was in the kitchen and she was hammering at me to tell her the truth and I basically said: 'Creen attacked me in the shower block.'

"For a moment, I can still see her, she looked shocked that I actually said it. She recognised the truth in it, there was no doubt they knew. Immediately she began blaming me, said I was late going for the shower, I'd been writing. I didn't know we had to go and have our showers. I was late going into the showers, I was on my own, isolated. She blamed me for being late.

"I think she was shocked that I had the audacity to say it. The look on her face was ... she went really red. She was a tiny woman, but everyone was terrified of her, she was a fiery nun. She was mean. I don't know whether I blurted it out because of what he had done, or I was in shock. I just needed her to stop, get my dad and get me home."

Her dad came to the camp and picked her up. On the drive home, Ms Walsh told her father what had happened.

Kathleen Walsh
Kathleen Walsh

"We were probably halfway home and my dad said: 'What's wrong with you?' Dad wasn't someone who said a lot of words, very to the point.

"I told him I was sick, but he knew I was lying. I said Creen hurt me in the showers, he'd walked into the showers and hurt me.

"He was rageful, but contained. He was trying to calm me. We got home and he told Mum. He was a man of God, she'd said, she said a man of God doesn't do that. And she was right, a man of God wouldn't do that. No man should do it.

"Dad left the house and was gone for a long time and when he came back he had red knuckles."

Ms Walsh would run into this reaction time and time and time again. People couldn't or wouldn't believe that a priest would abuse a child. To this day, her family still doesn't recognise the abuse, even after Creen pleaded guilty to molesting her in court.

"I wasn't quiet about it either. I went to a teacher, I went to the principal, both were nuns, I told them outright that he had attacked me in the showers.

"I told them I was naked in the showers and I turned around and he was there, exposed. There was no shock, they weren't shocked with what they heard. Your reaction would be different."

Kathleen Walsh. Picture: Shae Beplate.
Kathleen Walsh. Picture: Shae Beplate.

For the next five years, Ms Walsh would suffer in silence at the hands of Creen, the predator who was so brazen with his offending that he abused other children in confessionals, in swimming pools, in the company of other people. He knew no one would believe a man of God would hurt an innocent child.

How wrong they were.

It would take Ms Walsh decades to come forward to make a complaint against Creen. In total she told police about six occasions she was abused at the hands of Neville Creen. She tells the Bulletinthat barely scratched the surface of the horrific five-year period of abuse.

Creen pleaded guilty to six offences against Ms Walsh in November last year. The first being the incident at the school camp. Another two counts relate to Creen touching her on the outside of her clothes. A fourth count happened in a friend's swimming pool. Creen put his hand under her togs and penetrated her with a finger.

Kathleen Walsh. Picture: Shae Beplate.
Kathleen Walsh. Picture: Shae Beplate.

At this point Ms Walsh, fearing any contact with Creen, took drastic steps to stay away from the monster, including eating glass mixed with ice cream so she didn't have to go to school.

When she was in Year 8, Creen again penetrated Ms Walsh with a finger when she was collecting a musical instrument from the nunnery. This was count five.

Trying to escape from Creen, Ms Walsh fled Mount Isa to Townsville, where she was living with her sister and going to school.

Originally published as 'They did nothing': The devastation caused by a predator

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