Vile predatory priest destroys girl's innocence

ALMOST 50 years ago, a tall, fun-loving and charismatic Catholic priest strolled into a Queensland school where he began systematically destroying the heart, body and soul of a 14-year-old girl.

That teenager was Joan Isaacs and, despite 49 years having passed, the memory of the day she met the man who would sexually assault her over and over again is crystal clear.

"He came into our class to give religious instruction," Joan says of Francis Edward Derriman.

She pauses for a moment, her soft voice trembling slightly while her hands trace mindless patterns on the table in her spotless dining room.

"We'd had pretty boring religious instruction from the chaplains before that," Joan recalls.

"He really did appeal to us because he used modern music and cartoons.

"He just made religion interesting."

Joan was raised a devout Catholic by hard-working immigrant parents.

The church's clergy were boring, stifling old men who rarely acknowledged Joan and her peers so when the youthful Derriman arrived on the scene in 1967, it was like a fresh breeze blowing the dust off their eager young minds.

Studious Joan had big dreams of being a teacher and loved nothing more than listening to music and going to the movies with her friends.

Derriman was 10 years her senior when he started teaching religious instruction at the Sacred Heart secondary college in Sandgate, Brisbane.

With his thick black-framed glasses sitting awkwardly on his large ears, he was far from good looking.

His cheeks were fat and puffy, his eyes small and his receding hairline highlighted the bulldog thickness of his heavy brow. But what Derriman lacked in looks he made up for with personality and an uncanny ability to know exactly what made adolescents tick.

He talked eloquently about the sounds of 1960s music icons such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Donovan and Bob Dylan. He quoted the likes of Plato and urged his young charges to talk about anything and everything during his classes.

Within weeks of arriving at Sacred Heart, Derriman was ingratiating himself into Joan's life, often visiting her home where he forged a strong friendship with her mum Gloria and dad Hubert.

"He just had a way of making people feel that they really mattered and he always took notice of what they said," Joan says.

Derriman started leaving her little love letters, he invited her to concerts, he requested songs on the local radio station for his "special" girl, he had hidden messages in his church sermons and even put the tip of his finger in her mouth while she was on her knees taking communion.

Finally, he told Joan he was dying from an incurable disease and she needed to help him fulfil his manly needs.

"I had a great deal of compassion for him," Joan says.

"I cared for him ... but I found him physically repulsive."

One afternoon a distressed and anxious Derriman called Joan on the family's telephone.

"He told me he was going to hospital and he would not be returning," Joan says.

"He asked me to come to the presbytery to help him sort out some things.

"When I went inside I knew there was only the two of us there.

"He said to me 'I want to have sex with you before I die'."

Despite her fear and distress, Joan held her ground against the much larger Derriman.

Eventually he stopped pushing, promising instead to drive her home. With relief washing over her scared and shaking body, Joan climbed into his car.

As Derriman drove into unfamiliar suburbs it dawned on Joan that he had no intention of taking her home.

Instead he pulled into a quiet dark area, stopped the engine and in a practised move pinned the terrified girl down while locking the vehicle so she had no chance of escape.

"I'll never forget how it felt," Joan says.

"I could not breathe with the weight of his body against mine.

"It crushed me.

"His mouth suffocated me.

"I did not know where I was or how to get home.

"I just had to endure it.

"When he stopped he vented his anger and called me frigid.

"It was a night that lived on with me for the rest of my life."

Derriman assaulted Joan many more times over the following year.

His endless abuse was so heinous that Joan could see no way out and one night she locked her bedroom door and started cutting her wrists.

"I was at the point of suicide because I knew my mind and my body were no longer my own," she says.

Joan survived her suicide attempt and she eventually confided in her friend Ian Isaacs, who would eventually become her husband.

Ian told Joan she would never be free of Derriman unless she told her parents. Joan and her mother then went to the priest in charge of the parish.

"He just didn't get it," Joan says of Derriman's superior's response to the abuse.

"He said to me, 'But you've been going to holy communion, how come you've been going to holy communion?'

"He was saying I was the sinner.

"As we were leaving it dawned on me that the church would not be doing anything about my abuser."

Derriman was moved to another parish and the issue was well and truly swept under the carpet.

Despite the nightmares and trauma, Joan managed to graduate high school and completed a degree in education.

She married Ian and they raised two sons while carving out solid teaching careers.

Then one sunny day in 1996, a tall grey bearded man with thick dark glasses and a receding hairline strolled along a Sunshine Coast beach laughing and talking with a much younger woman.

"As they got closer I saw his eyes and I knew it was him," Joan says.

"All my life, from the time I was abused to that time, I wanted to meet him as an adult and I thought 'Here's my chance'.

"But I was so shocked I just could not move."

Joan spent the next six months trying to forget the image of her monster on the beach. But it became too much and she decided her only option was to call Queensland Police and file a report.

Derriman was charged, faced a three-day trial and was found guilty of indecently assaulting Joan.

He was sentenced to one year in jail but only served four months behind bars.

"He subjected me to physical, sexual and emotional torture and I felt utter relief that he was going to jail because I knew he would know what it was like to be totally powerless," Joan says of bringing him to justice.

In 2001, Joan decided to take part in the Catholic Church's Towards Healing program. The widely criticised program was designed by the church to help clergy abuse victims.

However, in most cases the church appeared to force victims into a cone of silence by intimidating them with legal threats. Joan's case was no different.

She asked the church for an official apology, payment of her trauma counselling sessions and compensation.

The church refused to publicly apologise and it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table when it came to covering the costs of 20 of Joan's psychology appointments.

"My lawyer suggested I take legal action and force the church and Derriman into paying compensation," Joan says.

"Then we found out the Catholic Church organised its funds in such a way that it can't be sued."

Joan had to withdraw her case and was forced to pay Derriman's legal costs of $10,000 on top of her own legal bill of $25,000.

"Then the church threatened me that if I didn't sign a contract (of silence) that I would have their costs awarded against me," she says.

"They were going to give me $30,000 but I'd have to sign the silence clause."

Joan was unable to talk about Derriman's abuse with anyone for 12 long years after signing that contract.

But when the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse called for victims to come forward in 2013, Joan decided she would no longer carry the church's dirty secret.

"That man who abused me is still a priest now," Joan says.

"I've made inquiries about why he hasn't been defrocked and I'm told each time that it's extremely difficult to move against a priest against his will."

Three years after her brave and compelling appearance before the royal commission, Joan has well and truly found the voice that the Catholic Church systematically silenced for almost five decades.

In July, her book To Prey and Silence was released to widespread acclaim.

The 505-page treatise is an astounding body of work, penned by a woman whose faith was ultimately destroyed by a brazen predator and the Catholic leaders who protect him still.

"The Catholic Church is so full of this deceit and it seems to me those in the hierarchy are not there to protect the children because the children don't matter," Joan says.

"The leaders are there to protect the awful, evil people who prey on children and that makes me angry and I won't be silenced any more."

Derriman could not be contacted for comment.