Pope accepts resignation of NZ bishop

Bishop Charles 4

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Charles Drennan of Palmerston North diocese in New Zealand, following a complaint against him of unacceptable behavior of a sexual nature.

A media statement from Cardinal John Dew, the Metropolitan Archbishop of New Zealand, late on October 4, announced that Bishop Drennan had resigned as Bishop of Palmerston North.

Bishop Drennan tendered his resignation to Pope Francis following an investigation into a complaint of unacceptable behaviour of a sexual nature. The complaint was made by a young woman.

Upon receiving the complaint, the New Zealand Church’s independent investigation body, the National Office of Professional Standards (NOPS), contracted an independent, licenced investigator to undertake an investigation under the oversight of Cardinal Dew. Bishop Drennan stood aside from his duties. Both Bishop Drennan and the young woman participated in the independent investigation.

The young woman has been informed of his resignation and the Church is in ongoing contact with her. The Church is committed to giving continuing support to the young woman, her family and those around her.

“The young woman has requested that details of the complaint remain private,” said Cardinal Dew.

“It can be confirmed that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, Bishop Drennan’s behaviour was completely unacceptable, and it fully supports the young woman for coming forward to NOPS,” said Cardinal Dew.

The clergy, staff and church leadership of the Diocese of Palmerston North have been told of the acceptance of Bishop Drennan’s resignation and provided with guidance and resources to help them to support parishioners and other members of the Catholic community. The wider Church of New Zealand will also be advised and supported.

“The Catholic Church has no tolerance for any inappropriate behaviour by any of its members. I encourage anyone who experiences such behaviour to bring it to the attention of the Church, police or any organisation with which they feel comfortable,” said Cardinal Dew.

New Zealand media reported that Bishop Drennan’s resignation was expected a few hours before the official announcement from Rome. Initial reports made much of the fact that Bishop Drennan was a member of Te Roopu Tautoko. This body was established to co-ordinate and manage co-operation between the Catholic Church in New Zealand and the Royal Commission into Historic Abuse in Care.

Through this group, the New Zealand Catholic bishops and congregational leaders are participating in the processes of the inquiry.  

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the royal commission in February, 2018. It was initially to inquire about abuse in state care, but there were many calls for the scope to be widened. 

In March, 2018, New Zealand’s bishops and representatives of religious orders wrote to Ms Ardern and others requesting that the royal commission be broadened to include abuse in religious institutions. The Anglican Church in New Zealand made a similar request.

The broadened scope of the royal commission was announced in November, 2018. A final report is scheduled to made in 2023.

The royal commission is looking into what happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care between 1950 and 1999. It will cover abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect.

Bishop Drennan, who worked for seven years for the Vatican’s Secretariat of State under St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, was appointed co-adjutor Bishop of Palmerston North on February 22, 2011. This was the same day as a devastating earthquake struck Christchurch, where he was based, being administrator of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, which suffered severe damage.

Bishop Drennan was ordained bishop on June 11, 2011. He was installed as Bishop of Palmerston North in 2012.

Before being appointed bishop, he had been a parish priest and had served at Holy Cross Seminary and at the theologate, Good Shepherd College in Auckland. He had also been the chancellor of Christchurch diocese. He is also an ascribed member of the Institute of Charity – Rosminians.

New Zealand’s bishops are scheduled to make an Ad Limina visit to Rome later this month, with a meeting with Pope Francis scheduled for October 28. Bishop Drennan had previously been secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

Bishop Drennan attended two synods of bishops meetings at the Vatican – the synod on the new evangelisation in 2012 and the synod on the family in 2015.

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Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. Maria says

    How did it come to this, that the Catholic Church should act as if it is Calvin’s Geneva? Is there not a huge distinction between predatory behaviour which is a lifetime of infidelity, and one or even two inappropriate lapses?

    For that reason, and clearly as officially stated, this was no abusive situation, but an adult to adult inappropriate relationship, which seems to have not even caused obvious scandal or inflicted pain on a third party. That Drennan should suffer this humiliation is extremely sad.

    Regardless, Charles Drennan has needed to submit his resignation which was accepted. That it was accepted is for me the scandal, for there is no mercy here, only cold hard justice.

    Moreover there is the taint of hypocrisy. Such a rigorous standard that finds no distinction between a serial predator and a simple sinner certainly calls into question a many priests in NZ who should now offer their resignations. The statement that, ‘The Catholic Church has no tolerance for any inappropriate behaviour by any of its members,’ is a joke, which makes Drennan to be a scapegoat of some type.

    I wish him well, I fear he has been badly handled.

  2. Elizabeth says

    I am deeply confused by the insistence of so many laity that this was an adult to adult consensual relationship. Rome is still defending Cardinal Pell even after his conviction, but not Drennan. His resignation has been accepted (requested?). Archbishop John Dew has publicly stated that his behaviour was inappropriate and unacceptable. Are we so naive to think that the Church has taken this course for a consensual affair. Initial media releases said that the young woman was a teenager when the events occurred and now a young woman. So presumably over 16 (since not criminal). So the laity are fine with a bishop in his 50s having a sexual interaction of some sort (any sort!?) with a teenager? There are many forms of sexual abuse not clearly covered by criminal law.
    I suspect that there is a lot not being said, and that the unprecedented punishment likely fits the “crime”.

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