Report reveals scale of abuse in Church in New Zealand
By Lisa Zengarini
The New Zealand Catholic Church has revealed that 14 percent of its diocesan clergy (nearly one in seven) has been accused of abusing children and adults since 1950.
The figures emerge from an extensive research conducted at the request of the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care, which was set up in 2018 by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The Te Rōpū Tautoko, the team that coordinates Church engagement with the Royal Commission, published its findings on 1 February, a statement reports.
The two-year inquiry revealed that the Church received 1,680 reports by 1,122 individuals against Catholic clergy, brothers, nuns, sisters, and lay people from 1950 to the present day, of which 592 were named.
Almost half the reported abuse involved sexual harm. The 1960s and 1970s were the decades with the most abuse reported, with 75 percent dated before 1990.
Te Rōpū Tautoko collected and examined information from the country’s six Catholic dioceses and from 43 Catholic religious congregations (also known as religious institutes, orders or associations). The research included records of 428 Catholic parishes, 370 Catholic schools, and 67 other care institutions.
According to the research team's fact sheet, 378 reports were made about 182 (14 percent) of diocesan clergy, 599 reports were made about 187 brothers and priests belonging to religious congregations (8 percent ) and 258 reports about 120 women religious (3 percent).
A total of 138 allegations of abuse were made against 103 mostly lay staff, volunteers, and other people involved with the Church.
Sexual abuse on children
Of the 1,680 complaints, 1,350 involved children and 164 involved adults, with the age of a further 167 not established by the research. 835 were reports of sexual harm against a child.
Of the total, 687 relate to educational facilities, 425 to residential care, 228 to parishes, and 122 to other locations, with the remaining 219 at unidentified locations.
Not all alleged abusers identified
The study only covers recorded reports, therefore the records fail to represent all abuse that has happened in the care of the Catholic Church. Also, not all the alleged abusers were identified – 308 of the reports were against unidentified people.
A total of 1,296 reports were against 592 named alleged abusers. Of those 592, 393 had one report about them, 143 had two to four reports, 40 had five to nine, 10 had 10 to 14, and six had 15 or more. Those six accounted for more than 10 percent of all reports of alleged abuse.
Cardinal Dew: "horrifying" figures
Cardinal John Dew, President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), has decribed the figures as “horrifying” and something the Church is “deeply ashamed of”.
He expressed his gratefulness for the work done and reiterated the Bishops’ commitment to building a safer Church for everyone.
Commenting the findings, Sister Margaret Anne Mills, President of the Congregational Leaders Conference of Aotearoa New Zealand, highlighted the need for all Church leaders to acknowledge the harm done and to focus on healing.
The Royal Commission thanked all survivors who have come forward to help its enquiry. “The research is startling, and the heart-breaking reality is that helpless and vulnerable children and adults sit behind these facts and figures,” a statement says.
Royal Commission investigating further
The publication of the research comes a few days ahead of Commission’s hearings that will investigate events at Christchurch’s Marylands School, a Catholic residential school for boys, many with disabilities, run from the 1950s to 1984 by the Hospitaller Order of St John of God brothers, also known as Fatebenefratelli.
It is also looking into any abuse by the brothers at Hebron Trust, a Christchurch facility for at-risk youth operated by one of the brothers, and abuse by the brothers at Marylands against residents of the neighbouring St Joseph’s orphanage run by the Sisters of Nazareth.