The ritual of "Confession" helped a priest to abuse a young girl

By a Broken Rites researcher

An Australian woman, who allegedly suffered sexual abuse by a Catholic priest when she was just six years old, has finally broken her silence after 50 years. At the age of 56, Gina Swannell finally exercised her right to have a private interview with Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission. She told how the priest's tactics included using the sacrament of Confession.

Broken Rites has a policy of protecting the privacy of victims — for example, by not publishing the victim's name. However, Ms Swannell has spoken to the Australian media, giving them permission to publish her name.

Gina Swannell says she was abused several times over a six month period by Father Charles Holdsworth when she was a student at St Francis Xavier's boarding school at Urana, in south-west New South Wales in 1966.

Ms Swannell was placed into this boarding school with her elder sister Kerrie in 1966 when their mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and their father was working in the air force.

The alleged abuse started when Ms Swannell, then aged six years, was required to attend Confession with Fr Holdsworth to prepare for her First Holy Communion.

She alleges that Father Holdsworth, who was killed in a car accident in 1969, digitally penetrated her, and he forced her to watch him masturbate on multiple occasions.

When she attempted to report the abuse to the head nun, Gina was told by the nun: "That man [Fr Holdsworth] was hand-picked by God … any more of this nonsense and there will be no Communion for you."

The order of nuns which ran the school, the Presentation Sisters, has since offered to mediate the case but the other respondent to the action (the Wagga diocese) has dithered, she said.

Therefore, the matter is scheduled now to be submitted to the New South Wales Supreme Court on 16 October 2015. There is still time for the church authorities to enter into mediation with Ms Swannell's lawyer, thereby making court action unnecesary.

Father Charles Holdsworth was a priest of the Wagga Wagga Diocese, which covers a large region in the south-west of New South Wales.

Bishop Gerard Hanna, who was the bishop of the Wagga Wagga diocese from 2002 to 2016, has stated: “We [the church authorities] have to work through the legal questions. We are definitely open to mediation, we just need some time.”

Ms Swannell said her adult life had been punctuated by anger issues, drug addiction and broken relationships, all stemming from the abuse.

“It [the abuse] destroyed my trust in everyone, including my own family,” she said.

“I want justice, I want an apology, I want compensation. The church says one thing to the public and then does another thing behind closed doors.”

Reverend Father Charles William Edward Holdsworth died in November 1969, when Gina Swannell was nine years old, after his car crashed into a tree in southern NSW. A newspaper report gave Holdsworth's address as "the Bishop's House, Wagga".