Margaret came from a religious family in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. She enjoyed a happy childhood with her parents and siblings. Receiving a Catholic education was a family tradition.
This all changed when Father Cox moved to the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Caringbah, where he was the assistant parish priest. Cox had priestly duties at Our Lady of Fatima Primary School and also at the Church. As a religious family, Margaret’s parents trusted the charismatic and popular priest. They were honoured and felt special when Cox befriended the family. Her parents allowed Cox to collect Margaret and go jogging with her at the local park most mornings before school.
But Cox had a dark side. He was secretly a hardcore paedophile. His sexual abuse started when Margaret was just eleven years old. He started putting his hand down the back of Margaret’s pants and touching her bottom, then moving the hand around to touch the outside of her vagina. This routine continued on a regular basis for about four years. She remembers the first time that he inserted his finger inside her vagina, causing her pain, fear and alarm. Next, Cox would take Margaret to a private place and remove her clothes and expose himself. He’d fondle her breasts and vagina, rubbing his penis against her body until he ejaculated.
When she was thirteen, Cox took her to a room at the school, rubbing himself against the outside of her vagina until he ejaculated. He would bring alcohol with him and force her to masturbate him. Margaret found this particularly terrifying due to the fact that there were people outside the hallway while the abuse occurred.
When Margaret was fifteen years old, she was raped by a stranger. With her history of abuse by Cox, Margaret did not develop natural protective mechanisms to realise that, when the man pulled down her pants, he was doing something very dangerous and wrong. She was shocked when the rape commenced, screaming for him to stop. She told Cox about what had happened to her. After this, Cox began to have full on penile/vaginal sex with Margaret until she was 17 years old.
At this point, Margaret fell pregnant to Cox. Contrary to the teachings of the Church, Cox paid her $200 in cash to get an abortion. After the termination, Cox ignored and avoided Margaret, causing her great distress.
Margaret officially complained to the Church in 1996. However the response she received only compounded her trauma. Cox was put ‘on leave’, although he continued to be financially supported by the Church; he even lived in a Church-owned property. He was then ‘retired’ until his death in 2008. Margaret was referred to Towards Healing, but found the process confusing. Ultimately, it amounted to nothing for Margaret.
Margaret reported Cox to the police. This resulted in a criminal trial. She felt she was the being treated like a perpetrator, being asked confronting questions regarding her adolescence and being accused of trickery in pursuit of compensation. Cox’s legal defence was funded by the Church. He was accompanied to court every day by a priest. The guilty verdict and sentence of two years’ periodic detention was overturned on appeal, on the basis that the appeal judge found it improbable that the abuse had occurred with the regularity that it did. That was the way the law worked back then.
The court experience reinforced what Margaret had been told during the years of Cox’s abuse: the priest warned her if she told anyone it would only cause scandal for her. After Cox’s death a glowing obituary was published in The Catholic Weekly newspaper. One of the bishops co-celebrating the funeral service had even once acknowledged that the abuse had occurred. Margaret interpreted this as yet another insult from the Church.
A few years ago Margaret engaged with Kelso Lawyers to get some justice. Kelso’s supported Margaret in a meeting with Church officials and their lawyers. They gained a meaningful apology both face to face and in writing. Peter Kelso negotiated a significant compensation payout.
Margaret found the claim process challenging, but worthwhile. When it was over she felt like a weight had been lifted. She was at last really able to move forward with her life. She was happy that she had worked with Kelso Lawyers to achieve such a positive outcome.
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