THREE priests dominated the last years of Dorothy Ralph's life after she moved to a unit across the road from St Joseph's Church at Cessnock in 1991 and became a Catholic at 70.
Convicted child sex offender Vince Ryan converted her, convicted child sex offender David O'Hearn charmed and flattered her and Tom Brennan employed her as his housekeeper for eight years, until the day Mrs Ralph was sent to a nursing home for "respite" in 2012, only hours before Brennan was charged with child sex offences.
Mrs Ralph's daughter, Trudy Rogers, finds it hard to read letters her mother received from Ryan and O'Hearn in November, 2012 after she turned to them in her grief following Brennan's death, of cancer, a few weeks after he was charged.
O'Hearn was in jail by then and Ryan on parole. The then prime minister Julia Gillard had just established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse after a campaign launched by the Newcastle Herald following years of reports about Hunter child sex offenders.
Mrs Ralph became a Catholic at Cessnock while Ryan and O'Hearn were the local priests. When both men were moved from Cessnock following child sex allegations, Tom Brennan was appointed Cessnock parish priest. The three men were her only local priests for more than two decades.
Mrs Ralph lived for more than two years after Brennan's death but her heart was broken and her trust betrayed, Mrs Rogers said in a book she has written about her mother's life.
It is in part a tribute to the many Australian women whose loyalty and devotion to churchmen was later betrayed in a tsunami of child sex cases and systemic institutional cover-ups.
"These women like my mother are victims in a way. They're the collateral damage of abuse," Mrs Rogers said.
"There are very obvious victims and then there are others, like my mother, who do not have a voice, who remained loyal to these priests and the church that betrayed them.
"They are the victims who felt guilty by association. My mother was a beautiful, strong, feisty woman who was horribly deceived. I saw her waver from one side to the other over the years, feeling betrayed but always pulled back by loyalty to these men and the church. She would say to me of Brennan, everyone's left him and he needs me."
All three priests had women in their lives - the housekeepers, volunteer cooks and elderly women who made life comfortable for them and supported parish community work. Ryan, O'Hearn and Brennan were also linked to other women, whose involvement with the priests became the subject of devastating rumour, leading to tragedy in Ryan's case.
Dorothy Ralph saw it all, struggled with it and talked to her daughter.
There was Ryan's close contact with a woman whose son and other boys regularly stayed overnight at the presbytery.
"She adored Father Vince. She would say to me, 'He's such a literate man. His homilies are so inspiring'. I heard all this talk of Father Vince and how wonderful he was," Mrs Rogers said.
"She introduced me to him and I was very disappointed. He looked right through you. I thought, is this the priest mum thinks is so wonderful?"
Then rumours started about Ryan being seen holding hands with the woman, while boys stayed overnight at the presbytery with Ryan, ordering in pizza and leaving the mess for Mrs Ralph to clean.
She complained to Ryan who dismissed her with a wave of the hand and his view that "they bring a bit of fun to the place". He made no effort to stop the rumours to protect the woman.
One year later a teenage boy was in a critical condition after taking Ryan's car and crashing it. Dorothy Ralph praised Ryan's devotion to the unconscious boy as he lay in a hospital bed.
"She told me Ryan wouldn't leave the boy's side. It was only later she realised why. He was afraid of what the boy would say about him," Mrs Rogers said.
David O'Hearn took no steps in 1992 to stop rumours about his friendship with Yvonne Burston - which was close but not sexual - despite being confronted by Mr Burston's then husband, the future NSW One Nation Senator Brian Burston.
"I confronted him a number of times. He said he'd be friends with whoever he wanted and he'd be judged by God. I had no idea he was a paedophile. These priests used women. There's no doubt about that. I feel sorry for how they treated Mrs Ralph and I have no doubt they used rumoured relationships with women as a cover for their crimes against children," Mr Burston said.
"How many other people's lives and marriages did they screw up that we don't know about? We're all collateral damage to the church and the abuse. It still impacts on me how we were treated back then."
Trudy Rogers has a photo of a woman who was subject to rumours involving her friendship with Tom Brennan. Dorothy Ralph was horrified to hear about it and told her daughter.
"She just kept saying 'Father wouldn't do that'," Mrs Rogers said.
"The women in these men's lives, it was a smokescreen, a cover for what they were really doing."
While mother and daughter remained close to the end, despite Mrs Rogers living in Brisbane and fighting cancer during her mother's final years, Tom Brennan and some supporters worked to isolate her mother, Mrs Rogers said.
"I used to visit my mother at the Cessnock presbytery all the time, but when Brennan moved to Toronto in 2003 and begged Mum to go with him, I never once went to the presbytery. I'd ring and ask to visit her and she'd always have excuses why she couldn't because of church work."
After Mrs Rogers challenged her mother, she was told "Father Tom doesn't like you."
"I think he saw me as a threat. He never said much. He was quite secretive. The way the priests operate is to keep the families at arm's length so you don't really know what's going on," she said.
She has no idea where her mother's ashes are scattered after her death in March, 2015.
Without telling her daughter Mrs Ralph granted Tom Brennan power of attorney. In her will she asked to have her ashes scattered in a rose garden on church property. In her book Mrs Rogers said two elderly women supporters of Brennan told her that "might cause problems".
"To this day I don't know where her ashes are. I rang and asked for her ashes but got no response. There was no consultation with us about what would happen. It's always the secrecy."
When her mother rang in some distress in August, 2012 to say Brennan was sending her for "respite" at a Cooranbong nursing home while he travelled to Ireland for a holiday, Mrs Rogers rang Brennan to say she would travel to Toronto to care for her mother.
"I said to him 'I wonder why you didn't think to ask me?' He didn't say anything. There was just silence for a long time while I waited for his response. Then he just said 'Thank you Trudy' and hung up," she said.
Mother and daughter argued over the years after Ryan was charged and convicted of child sex offences, then O'Hearn, then Brennan was charged and convicted of making a false statement to police in which he denied being told priest and teacher John Denham had sexually abused boys, while Brennan was principal of St Pius X, Adamstown.
"Mum was a kind woman. Under most circumstances she would have defended children to the nth degree. For years and years she taught the slow readers at St Patrick's School," Mrs Rogers said.
She believes her mother's early years and long marriage in the United Kingdom to an abusive man left her vulnerable to certain kinds of priests.
"The persona of the priests Mum bought into was of the kind, gentle, celibate man who wasn't interested in the carnal side of human nature. I think she revered and respected them," Mrs Rogers said.
"I was happy when she first told me she'd become involved with the church across the road. I was living at Raymond Terrace at the time and I thought it was good because she would have friends.
"I think she thought she'd come to her golden years and found peace and happiness with the priests where she was useful. She wasn't religious at all until she went to Cessnock. Her mother was Irish Catholic and she was touched by a priest when she was 10.
"She was a woman in her 70s and 80s living with these deceiving, manipulative men and she was forced to pick sides. I could see her wavering over the years. She knew but she couldn't quite let go of it."
In their letters to Mrs Ralph after Brennan's death, Vince Ryan and David O'Hearn urged her to "find comfort in the Lord" and said Brennan would be "resting gently in God's arms".
O'Hearn told her of how it was "amazing" and "lifted my spirits and filled my heart with joy" to see the "number of people in the courtroom who were there supporting me" as he awaited a new trial on child sex offences.
"They're sociopaths, these priests," said Trudy Rogers.
"In the end my mother felt abandoned by the church. She was from an era where people obeyed authority. I used to assume Mum didn't know much about what was going on, but looking back, I think she knew a lot."
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