TURNED THE CORNER: Marlene ‘Del’ Burgess of Ballina is putting her past behind her to recover from sexual abuse by a Catholic priest as a child.
TURNED THE CORNER: Marlene ‘Del’ Burgess of Ballina is putting her past behind her to recover from sexual abuse by a Catholic priest as a child. Cathy Adams

Del challenges clergy: ‘own up

AFTER battling post-traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts and alcoholism for nearly five decades, Marlene 'Del' Burgess has finally turned the corner on her fight to recover from sexual abuse at the hands of a Lismore Catholic priest.

It's taken years of therapy, it destroyed her marriage and Marlene believes the legacy of the abuse has been visited upon her own daughter and grandchildren.

But she feels finally she can call herself a survivor.

Between the ages of 10 and 14 the now Ballina resident says she was abused by the late Father Paul Rex Brown and beaten repeatedly by a nun she confided in.

In 2003, after 40 years of keeping her dark secret, Marlene revealed her story to The Northern Star.

"Nothing short of a Royal Commission will uncover the true extent of sexual abuse within all churches in Australia," she said at the time.

Nine years later, Marlene's call is being echoed by others following new accusations of sexual abuse cover-ups in the Catholic church.

Marlene says one of her most profoundly healing experiences was a meeting with the Bishop of Lismore Geoffrey Jarrett in the Ballina Catholic office in 2009.

At this meeting she read out a 10-page letter in which she documented every hurt she believed had been perpetrated against her by the church.

On the list was not just the abuse itself, but also the way she was treated by the church during her battle for compensation to pay for therapy.

"I walked away very proud of myself," she recalls.

The feisty grandmother has a message for other church sexual abuse victims: "You can win. You're only allowing them to beat you if you stay in the tunnel of purgatory".

And her message to Catholic bishops: "Get out of those dresses, put a pair of trousers on, man up and own up."

Despite the pain inflicted on her and the fact she doesn't feel welcome in the Catholic Church, Marlene remains on good terms with God.

She says miraculous events and answered prayer proved to her that God has been her companion even in her darkest hours.

"I'm a believer; I couldn't survive without my faith."

She is now the sole carer of her nine-year-old grandson Jackson.

"He's my life now," she says proudly.

Father Brown, who died in 2005, was convicted of child pornography offences in 1996 and has also been accused by former street kid Eric Fleissig of abusing him between 1982 and 1985.



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