A former Ballarat priest has been found guilty of indecently assaulting a young girl in her own bed more than 40 years ago.
Leslie Sheahan, 85, who was an assistant priest of St Columba’s Church at the time of the offence, will return to the Ballarat Magistrates Court next month for sentencing over the historic indecent assault.
The woman assaulted as a young girl by the former Ballarat priest while she slept told the court the traumatic experience still haunted her.
The woman, who was aged nine or 10 at the time of the incident, gave evidence she woke one night in the 1960s to find Sheahan in her bed with his hand down her pants while he forced her hand on his penis.
“He kept telling me how nice it felt for me and I kept thinking no it wasn’t nice at all,” she told the court.
Left feeling ashamed, she said Sheahan, who would visit the house often with other members of the clergy including Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns and Cardinal George Pell, told her “that’s our secret” and not to tell her parents.
“I just curled up in a ball and cried,” she said.
“I remember it as if it happened last night.
“It’s a shadow that stays with you and hangs over you for the rest of your life.”
It was decades later before she told anyone about the night.
She told the court she originally wrote a letter to Bishop Mulkearns advising him of what happened because she wanted to make sure Sheahan was not working around children, but she never followed up on an invite to talk about the complaint.
She added a number of years later she found out Sheahan was still working in a Victorian parish and out of shock decided to ring him.
“He denied the incident and started to cry ... but he didn’t respond to questions about why he was crying,” she told the court.
But it was not until seeing Sheahan at a funeral she decided to make a complaint to police.
Sheahan denied the allegations and made a no comment interview to police.
Sheahan’s defence lawyer, Raymond Alexander, put to the woman she had fabricated the incident in which she responded “I had absolutely no doubt it was Father Sheahan in my bed.”
He also asked if the complaint was born out of desires to gain compensation, to which she told him she had not lodged for any compensation by the Catholic Church.
Mr Alexander argued Sheahan never groomed the young girl, which the woman also agreed never occurred, and said Sheahan risked the girl screaming or telling her parents if he had molested her.
“The likelihood of someone exposing themselves to that great of risk is unreasonable,” he said.
He added if the assault had occurred, it may have been another priest, as many frequently visited the Ballarat property.
He told the court no evidence of the letter could be found, and no diary notes were made by the woman which could support the allegations.
After the one-day contested hearing, Magistrate Cynthia Toose ruled Sheahan was guilty of two counts of unlawfully/ indecently assaulting the woman.
Ms Toose, who indicated Sheahan was looking at a period of imprisonment, said in her view there was clear identification by the victim of Sheahan on the night.
The matter was adjourned until September 28 for a plea hearing.