17th May 2019 | Joanne McCarthy | Newcastle Herald
IT took nine decades for the Catholic Church to apologise to Hunter woman Catherine Frances Muller, 97, who died on Wednesday surrounded by her family.
She lived for long enough to reclaim some power from a church that committed grievous wrongs against her as a child, and to sit in Parliament House in October as Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised to child sexual abuse survivors on behalf of the nation.
While her daughters Stephanie and Frances believe apologies and redress were not enough for a woman whose life was dominated and determined by years in the church's care from the age of six, it was enough for Mrs Muller.
Standing up for survivors to become the oldest Australian to receive redress under the National Redress Scheme righted some wrongs and gave her a purpose in the final years of her life, her daughters said.
"It wasn't just about redress for herself. She said 'I won't be happy until everybody gets exactly the same, until everyone receives their redress'," Frances said.
Mrs Muller spoke in public about the need for institutions to sign up to the redress scheme because "she felt that responsibility", Stephanie said.
"She was able to speak out and people were taking notice of her because of her age. She became a spokesperson for a lot of people who had no voice."
Frances described her mother as "a voice for the voiceless".
There were times when their independent mother struggled with her health and despaired she wouldn't live to see the Catholic Church's many entities sign up to the redress scheme, but it "gave her a purpose because she had to finish that job".
She received an apology and compensation from the Sisters of St Joseph earlier this year for the neglect and physical and sexual abuse she experienced at the St Josephs Girls Home at Gore Hill from 1928 until 1933. She was just six when she went into the nuns' care.
In a letter to Mrs Muller in 2009 the order acknowledged the trauma of being placed in the home after her parents abandoned their five children.
The loss of both parents was "a difficult thing" with lifelong impacts, the nuns wrote, but they failed to fully acknowledge the further trauma experienced at the orphanage.
"The nuns were so cruel. I don't think they'd heard of the word Christianity," she said.
Her family believes the need to have the trauma acknowledged by the Catholic Church became a focus.
"She wanted somebody to say publicly that these things happened. She wanted someone to acknowledge there had been an enormous wrong committed," Stephanie said.
Families and Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher took a direct interest in Mrs Muller's case after the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart in 2018 said they were signing up to the National Redress Scheme, but did not give a date.
In January Mr Fletcher announced the order had joined the scheme, and in a statement acknowledging Mrs Muller's claim could be considered, he urged other institutions to sign up.
"The interests of survivors are at the centre of everything we are doing with the National Redress Scheme. I urge other churches, sporting clubs and organisations to finalise the process and join as quickly as possible so other Australian survivors can access the support and acknowledgement they have been waiting for," he said.
Mrs Muller died on Wednesday of acute kidney failure surrounded by her family who were determined to care for her at home for as long as possible.
"She didn't want to go to a home," Stephanie said.
Mrs Muller's family said their mother was an independent, determined and sometimes driven woman whose childhood had a profound impact on her life, on her marriage and on her children.
"The things that happened to our mother affected others. The things that happened to thousands of Australians as children affected so many more," her daughters said.
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