Catholic priest ran cult-like 'Charlie Brown' group to sexually abuse young girls, royal commission hears

The Daily Telegraph, Australia/December 9, 2013

By Janet Fife-Yeomans

A Catholic priest ran a cult-like group sexually abusing young girls giving them all the surname Brown, as in Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip, the royal commission has been told.

Her voice wavering, one member of the group, Joan Isaacs, said Father Francis Derriman told her he was dying and had to have sex with her first.

He fathered a child with another girl in the group when she was 17.

Ms Isaacs said: "Frank Derriman used the Peanut comic as a platform and used the surname Brown in reference to himself, the other three children and me."

At the time in 1967 and 1968, Father Derriman was a priest with the Archdiocese of Brisbane and chaplain of Sacred Heart Sandgate in Brisbane, she told the commission.

After two committals and trial, Father Derriman was in 1998 eventually convicted of sexually abusing Mrs Isaacs, now aged 60, and sentenced to one year behind bars, to be suspended after he served just six months.

"Father Derriman created a cult like group which included myself and three other children," Mrs Isaacs, 60, said.

"He told me he could have sex with me once I attained the age of 16, so I was terrified of turning 16 to the point of being suicidal.

"On one occasion he acted out a fit in front of the Brown group. I understand Frank Derriman is still alive.

"I have maintained friendships with the other three children in the Brown group. The two girls out of the group have told me that Frank Derriman also sexually abused them. One of them took steps to have him criminally charged in respect of her sexual abuse and the other girl fathered Frank Derriman's child at the age 17 years."

Her shocking evidence drew gasps from the packed public gallery of the Sydney hearing of the royal commission into institutionalised responses to child sex abuse which is currently focusing on the Catholic Church's controversial Towards Healing process meant to help abuse victims like Mrs Isaacs.

She said that when her and her mother first approached anyone in charge at the church, Father Doyle who was the parish priest of Zillmere, told her: "It is time for you to look for someone your own age."

It took her 30 years to go to the police and one of the reasons she did so was because in 1996 she saw Frank Derriman on a beach with a young woman and a child and she had "terrible thoughts of ... the future of the child he was with."

She also had become a teacher at the Archdiocese of Brisbane to find that another paedophile priest, Father McKeirman, was deputy director of Catholic education.

"I knew (he) had sexually abused a number of children while a resident at Sacred Heart Presbytery, including a very good friend of mine," she said.

The commission has heard that McKeirman was in 1998 convicted of child sexual assault.

Mrs Isaacs said she later went through the Catholic Church's Towards Healing process expecting to be treated with warmth, dignity and respect but later discovered that everything that was said to her during the process, including the apology, had been drafted by a church lawyer beforehand.

Reluctantly she ended up signing a deed of release with the church that banned her from discussing what happened to her, including the Towards Healing process, with anyone including her husband or to make "disparaging remarks" about the church.

She received enough compensation to buy $5000 worth of Coles-Myer shares and a sewing machine.

Mrs Isaacs' emotional testimony ended with loud applause from the public gallery and again as she left the hearing room.

"There's a time in your life when you have to stand up for what is right and that time for me is now," she said.

"When the royal commission started this was one of the reasons that I needed to stand up because I needed to be free of those chains before I died."

She said she had felt silenced for the past 12 years since signing the confidentiality agreement with the church. The royal commission has negotiated with the church to lift all those suppression agreements.

On December 5, Mrs Isaacs received a letter from the Archbishop of Brisbane, Rev Mark Coleridge, stating that he believed there should have never been any secrecy clauses and he freed from such agreements.

Counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness SC, asked her what she wanted to say to that.

Mrs Isaacs said: "Too little, too late.

"I was waiting and waiting and I heard the opening address from the (Catholic) Church this morning about how sorry they were for everything that happened and I went back to my letter and I couldn't find sorry anywhere.

"I was silenced for 12 years. It has been so difficult to live like that."

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