‘My brother, the paedophile priest’
Margaret Harrod always had a special bond with her twin brother Michael. They were inseparable growing up, and both devoted their lives to the church. But one day when they were in their 20s, Margaret witnessed something unforgivable - her brother rubbing the groin of a young girl as she sat on his lap.
She tried to convince herself her eyes were playing tricks on her but deep down, she knew the truth. In this extract from her book, Blood on the Rosary, Margaret describes the moments her brother's dark secrets began to emerge.
Each morning from late spring until the end of summer, Peter* would shut the car windows up tight before he drove to work through the country roads of northern Victoria.
He hated the smell of warm hay drying in paddocks. It was the very same smell that had greeted him as a kid when he arrived back at Salesian College, Rupertswood each year for the first day of school.
Eighteen years after he finally escaped, the smell of cut grass still triggered flashbacks so crippling that Peter would have to pull the car over to the side of the road until my twin brother Father Michael Aulsebrook left him again.
The same smell also took him to the back roads of New South Wales. To dusty corrugated tracks nestled between farmland, where Brother Michael would regularly stop to take a break on their long drive to Queensland.
Peter knew he was special, Brother Michael told him so.
When the flashbacks hit, Peter could see Brother Michael next to him, he could feel his slimy hands slipping through the leg of his pants, smell him and taste the man of God's pleasure.
He vividly remembered the evil man he once thought he could trust.
Just a few days after we clocked into the new millennium Peter broke down. His wife, Lisa*, found him wedged in the corner of their living room, curled up in a ball.
At first, she thought the guttural cries she could hear from the washing line were from one of their heifers going into calf, but it was her husband releasing his tortured soul.
No longer able to fight the demons away, his mind flashed images of Brother Michael on loop, and he dreamt of ways he could release himself from this pain.
Death seemed like the only option.
He collapsed on the floor but landed face first, smashing his nose. Lisa found him covered in blood, cowering like a frightened animal.
That morning, Peter finally told her that the priest who'd married them, who'd dined at their home, who was in all of the family photos his mother treasured, had actually abused him.
Now Lisa knew why they struggled to make love, why the black dog was always by the back door and why she sometimes saw a look on her husband's face that said his mind was somewhere she could never reach.
At Lisa's insistence, Peter called his family in and broke the news about what had happened. He then told a close friend, who was a priest and a colleague of Father Michael's. He refused to believe Peter's claim and protested the cleric's innocence, effectively accusing Peter of lying.
In desperation, Peter contacted Father Michael and confronted him. He demanded that he phone his friend and verify he was telling the truth.
Father Michael did, making a full confession.
Barely a month later, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, purely by coincidence, Daniel Stevenson* shared horrifyingly similar news with his family.
He too had been a plaything for Father Michael Aulsebrook.
When Daniel's sister Mary* announced that she was getting married and Father Michael would officiate, Daniel collapsed in tears and finally shared the secret that had haunted him since he was 10 years old.
His parents Pat* and Michael Stevenson* were gutted. Several years earlier, their daughter Bernadette* had suffered a breakdown at high school.
She'd been caught with a stash of prescription tablets and alcohol and found herself in deep trouble.
During a session with the school counsellor, she broke down and finally opened
up about why she was taking drugs.
Through heaving sobs she mustered the words "Michael … Father" then "abuse". It was all she could manage to get out.
The school assumed she had been abused by her father, who shared the same first name as the young priest, and they called in the welfare department to investigate.
Despite finding no evidence he'd abused his precious little girl, Michael Stevenson was heartbroken that he was accused of such an atrocity.
He pushed his family away and shut down emotionally. He never hugged his children again.
When Father Michael Aulsebrook, their long-time friend and confidante, arrived at their home to help counsel the distraught girl and her family, Bernadette climbed out the window and ran away.
She turned to the streets, sleeping in brotherhood bins and staying at unsavoury new friends' houses.
Pat and her daughter Mary spent hours late at night driving around the neighbouring suburbs searching for her. Sometimes they were able to find her and bring her home, but it was never long before she took off again.
She lived on a daily cocktail of whatever drugs and alcohol she could get her hands on to numb her pain. No one ever put two and two together, until Daniel's heartbreaking revelation many years later.
It was the final clue in a tragic puzzle that had haunted this innocent family. Bernadette had been abused by Father Michael Aulsebrook too.
Neither family went to the police at this time.
The cleric was such a respected member of the community, who would believe them? They were embarrassed and ashamed by what had happened to their precious sons and daughters.
They closed the doors and licked their wounds in private. But their time would come.
*All names have been changed.
- This is an edited extract from Blood on the Rosary by Margaret Harrod and Sue Smethurst, published by Simon & Schuster Australia.