By Lisa Zengarini
The Catholic Bishops and religious men and women in New Zealand are “ashamed and saddened” by what has happened to victims of abuse, and assure survivors that they have learnt their lessons from past failures.
This was reiterated on Monday as the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care continued its second round of redress hearings in Auckland, with witnesses for the Catholic Church being heard from Tuesday to Friday.
The Commission is investigating the adequacy of redress and what needs to be done to support people who have been abused or neglected in State and faith-based institutions from 1950 to 1999. The inquiry includes cases of sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Faith-based institutions have been involved in the investigation following a specific request by the Catholic Bishops and Congregational Leaders.
The first phase of this Redress Hearing was held at the end of 2020, and focused on the experience of survivors in seeking redress (such as compensation, counselling or an apology) for abuse and/or neglect in the care of Catholic, Anglican and Salvation Army institutions. The new hearings, which started on March 15 and will run until March 29, are focused on the processes for resolving historic and current abuse claims.
After hearing evidence from witnesses of the Salvation Army and the Anglican Church last week, on 23 March, the Commission called in representatives of the Catholic Church. These include Br Peter Horide, Professional Standards Delegate for the Marist Brothers, Virginia Noonan, Director of NOPS, the National Office for Professional Standards; Fr Timothy Duckworth SM, Provincial of the NZ Province of the Society of Mary and Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington. The hearings are live-streamed from the Commission's website.
Building a better Church
In his opening address to the hearings on Monday, Cardinal Dew reiterated the Catholic Church’s support for the work of the Commission, expressing shame and sadness for what has happened to the victims.
“Our hope is that this Commission will lead us and help us to be a better Church, in which this disgrace of abuse will be addressed and will cease,” he said. “Our hope is that our Church will always be a Church that gives life and hope. This is our mission: it is always to give the life that Christ offers us," he added, admitting that in this “we have still much to learn.”
An opening statement was also made by Sally McKechnie, the lawyer representing Te Rōpū Tautoko, the group coordinating Catholic engagement with the Royal Commission.
On behalf of the Bishops and leaders of religious orders of the Catholic Church, she thanked survivors who have decided to engage in the inquiry for their “bravery and courage” and reiterated the bishops’ “deep regret that any person has suffered harm while in the care of the Catholic Church when they should have been safe.”
“The Church recognises that collectively there has been a failure”, and there “is no question that how and why these failures occurred needs to be examined and remedied,” she emphasized.
Ms. McKechnie also assured everyone that the bishops and heads of Orders will continue to work to improve these redress processes, “so that all survivors who engage with the Church are heard and supported.”
“As part of this ongoing process the Church is present in this hearing and the inquiry, with willingness to participate, a desire to improve, and a commitment to change,” McKechnie concluded.