Marlene Burgess at her Ballina home.
Marlene Burgess at her Ballina home. Brenden Allen

Sex abuse victim's plea for Pope to say 'sorry'

SEXUAL abuse victim Marlene 'Del' Burgess just wants to get her life back.

But to do that she needs to hear the word "sorry" come out of the Pope's mouth.

The Ballina woman - who was subjected to sexual abuse by a Northern Rivers Catholic priest and beatings by a nun when she was a schoolgirl - is calling on Pope Benedict XVI to apologise to her and others who have suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy when he comes to Sydney for World Youth Day this month.

Her call comes after the Pope apologised to American abuse victims on a visit there in April.

"I wrote to him (the Pope) and told him I'm afraid, and I just want to reconcile with the church," Ms Burgess said.

"I can't go now because I've been spat at outside the church in Ballina for coming out and speaking about what happened.

"Every day it haunts me, and the part that has really destroyed me is that people think I made this up to get money out of the church. I've never stolen a thing in my life."

Ms Burgess, who told her story in The Northern Star in 2003, said she had been hospitalised, undergone psychiatric treatment and suffered from stress and fear as a result of the abuse that occurred from the age of 10 when she was a student at a local Catholic school.

And while in 2003, after more than 40 years of keeping her dark secret and suffering in silence, the case was settled to her satisfaction at a Lismore District Court hearing, Ms Burgess still feels many in the church community are pointing the finger at her.

"I'd kept this hidden all of my life, as if I was some sort of criminal," she said.

"Not even a single member of my family knew what had happened.

"But I decided that the only way to create change in the church, and to raise community awareness, was to tell the truth."

Ms Burgess told The Northern Star she had to "pray and obey".

"I was terrified of him. I didn't even know what it was he was doing. I didn't know what a penis was," she said.

"I was petrified and nauseated. The experience completely shattered me and I have never recovered from it."

When Ms Burgess confided in her favourite nun she was beaten repeatedly, she claims.

Now she wants the Pope to apologise for what happened, and tell the church "it's not the victim's fault".

"If he apologised I could move on. What anybody else said wouldn't matter," Ms Burgess said.

Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell said he would support an apology from Pope Benedict when he visits Australia, but said he was not expecting him to do so.

"Certainly, there's plenty for which we're not proud. We faced up to it, I think, pretty well for quite some time now," he said. "I think it would be appropriate for the Pope to say something on that score."

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