A 92 year old woman's plea for justice from the Catholic Church

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Child abuse victim, Stephanie Piper (Image via

This morning, Eileen Piper, a 92 year old mother who lost her only daughter, Stephanie, to suicide at age 32 after being repeatedly raped by Catholic priest, Gerard Mulvale, told her story to ABC's Fran Kelly.  

(You can listen to the interview here.)

EILEEN AND her lawyer, Dr Judy Courtin, travelled to Sydney to confront Archibishop Denis Hart today at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is a heartbreaking story of unmitigated injustice. The Catholic Church have conspired to trash her daughter's reputation — and hold fast to the findings of the church's farcical self-investigation decades ago. 

Dr Judy Courtin tells Eileen's story:

Mrs Eileen Piper, my 92-year old client, has been fighting the Catholic Church for 25 years.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is soon to complete its wrap-up hearing into the Catholic Church. Whilst the church "hangs it head in shame", we are assured by the hierarchy that "today’s church is significantly different".

Mrs Piper and many other victims fervently disagree.

The Church’s ongoing, current and callous rebuff of my client has finally forced her to go public to give voice to her pain. The oldest person to commence a petition on, over 50,000 people are giving support and encouragement to Mrs Piper, and calling on the church to do the right thing.

Mrs Piper says she will not die until she has justice.

Mrs Piper’s story reveals that her teenage daughter, Stephanie, was sexually abused by Gerard Mulvale before his ordination and then brutally raped by Mulvale after he was ordained a priest. Mulvale, a member of the Pallottines, was attached to St Christopher’s Parish in Syndal in the late 1970s. This parish, which the Piper family helped establish and to which they contributed about $40,000, was owned by, and the responsibility of, the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Stephanie went on to self-medicate with alcohol and self-harmed, and her depression dramatically worsened over the years.

In mid-1993, following an earlier suicide attempt, Stephanie trustingly took her complaints to the Archdiocese, where a church-established Special Issues Committee determined her allegations could not be substantiated.

Rejected by the church, Stephanie made a statement to the police in November 1993, and Mulvale was subsequently interviewed and charged with six incidents of sexual abuse and rape of Stephanie.

Mulvale was also charged with sex offences against two males and another woman, but the woman withdrew from the case due to fear of the exposure.

Ultimately, Mulvale was convicted and imprisoned for the sex crimes against the two male complainants. This was not until November 1995.

Immediately after Mulvale was questioned by the police, Mrs Piper recalls Stephanie receiving threatening phone calls and being stalked.

Stephanie was also threatened by Mulvale that if she spoke out, he would:

“Get at your family."

On 19January 1994, in the face of impossible odds, Stephanie committed suicide.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, the Pallottines and the Independent Commissioner of the Melbourne Response continue to stand by the decision of the Special Issues Committee from 1993, which was re-enforced in an Archdiocesan media release of Monday 13 February.

Such a resistant stance, further traumatising and harming Mrs Piper, is bewildering, especially in light of recent evidence before – and findings of – the Royal Commission.

First, it was found by the Royal Commission that if the church is investigating its own sexual abuse crimes, it cannot be neutral or independent.

Second, Archbishop Hart gave evidence to the Royal Commission confirming that not only was the approach by this Special Issues Committee ad hoc and wholly inadequate, their investigations warranted disapproval. Further, there was an absence of adequate policies, processes and procedures for the handling of complaints within the Archdiocese and church leaders failed to listen to victims and investigate complaints.

This Special Issues Committee based its finding on the fact that Mulvale ‘strongly denied the allegations made by Stephanie’. Applying such weight to an alleged offender smacks of a clerical culture that quite wrongly favoured his testimony over that of the alleged victim.

It also defies the then Church protocol warning that accused clergy tended ‘to minimise or deny involvement’ in the alleged sex crimes and that this should be taken into account.

Another reason underpinning the Committee’s 1993 finding was a signed statement by a friend of Stephanie’s which refuted her allegations. This friend from the Syndal parish – who was also abused by Mulvale – received a letter from Vicar General Cudmore (now deceased) of the Special Issues Committee thanking him for signing the statement.

But in 1994 at Mulvale’s committal hearing, the author of the statement gave evidence on oath that Father Flynn, of the Pallottines, had instructed him to write that false statement about Stephanie because "…we had to put Stephanie Piper down and make her seem thoroughly horrible…" and make her appear cheap and the villain.

It is this false statement from 1993 that the Archdiocese, the Pallottines and the Melbourne Response continue to rely upon to support their ongoing denial that Stephanie Piper was ever sexually abused by Mulvale.

Mrs Eileen Piper has spent the last 25 years single-handedly battling the church. She went back to the church no less than four times only to be repudiated.

Although Mrs Piper gave evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, and again to the Royal Commission, she has not received justice and continues to suffer unimaginable grief and psychiatric harm.

The Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Pallottines simply don’t care. Their ongoing attempts to wash their hands of Stephanie and Eileen Piper will forever be unsuccessful — as such stains are indelible.

Mrs Piper needs proper compensation and a genuine and humble apology.

Dr Judy Courtin is a lawyer at Angela Sdrinis Legal, representing victims of Institutional child abuse. You can sign Eileen Piper's petition here.

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