ANN Ryan still agonises over the thought that large numbers of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in south-west Victoria are haunted by their past.
The former teacher, who waged a frustrating battle with church leaders for them to take pastoral responsibility for the traumas, has joined calls for a recently-announced state government inquiry to be given royal commission powers.
The Warrnambool woman was teacher-librarian at St Colman's Primary School in Mortlake when the now-jailed Gerald Ridsdale was parish priest in the early 1980s.
It came to light much later that Ridsdale would invite boys over to the presbytery at lunch break to play games and groomed the primary school pupils for sexual abuse.
He also engaged in paedophile activities at other south-west parishes as did several other priests and teaching brothers in the 1970s and '80s.
Detectives who gathered evidence for subsequent court convictions noted some victims later took their own lives after years of turmoil.
Mrs Ryan, 64, told The Standard the church hierarchy had handled the issue on legal grounds rather than pastoral healing.
"It was all about closing the door rather than opening it," she said.
"There was a complete lack of pastoral care. Victims were only young boys when all this happened. Some are ready to speak now and others need more time."
She said her protests from 1989-95 through direct approaches to clergy and through a church committee came at personal cost, with objections from some parishioners and threats to her job.
Her views were aired in a special ABC Four Corners investigation in 1995.
The issue eventually triggered her agonising decision in 1997 to severe lifelong ties with the Catholic Church and deeply question her Christian faith .
"There was a feeling of frustration, hurt and anger," she said.
"I came out of church after an Easter weekend service and as I drove past the dry-looking Mount Shadwell and I thought, 'that's me'.
"I have decided to disclose the skeleton of my personal journey to demonstrate the absolute lack of Gospel spirit and disingenuous nature within leadership of the church.
"I had just naively believed I could go to the bishop (retired Ronald Mulkearns) and he would take action. But I was wrong.
"I once asked him what Jesus would have done and the bishop said he didn't know. Part of me feels sorry for him. He was in a very lonely place and didn't have leadership skills."
Mrs Ryan said the first she learnt of the abuses was when the parent of one of the boys revealed to her why Ridsdale had been moved on.
"I heard of senior clergy telling victims and families to say nothing more or 'to offer it up to God'. Some people are still in denial."