Church fronts at royal commission hearing

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New Zealand’s Catholic bishops and congregational leaders have, through
legal counsel, told the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care that they are committed to having their errors and omissions being examined truthfully and openly.

At the end of a “contextual hearing” by the royal commission, which ran from October 29 to November 8 in Auckland, Sally McKechnie of law firm Simpson Grierson, speaking on behalf of Te Ropu Tautoko, delivered this message.

Te Ropu Tautoko is the body set up by the bishops and congregational leaders to liaise with the royal commission.

Ms McKechnie told the commissioners that “the Catholic bishops and congregational leaders are very aware that dark chapters of their history will be examined”.

“Some of that evidence has been heard in this hearing already. Sadly,
it is very clear that many things have happened within the Catholic dioceses and congregations in New Zealand which should not have happened.

“All forms of abuse are unacceptable and indefensible — and all people
should have been safe in the care of Catholic entities in New Zealand.”

Ms McKechnie noted that representatives of Te Ropu Tautoko and of Auckland diocese attended each day of the hearing, and listened to the evidence, both faith- and state-based, “and have learned much from the witnesses”.

“Their presence here . . . is part of the commitment by the bishops and congregational leaders of the Catholic Church to listen, to learn from, and to support the survivors.”

Ms McKechnie said the bishops and congregational leaders “are committed
to accepting responsibility and their responsibility to act to stop future abuse in the Catholic Church and to learn the lessons of how to respond to what has already happened and should not have happened in the care of the Catholic entities of Aotearoa New Zealand”.

The bishops and congregational leaders are committed to learning the lessons that will come from the work of the royal commission, she added.

It was noted that the Catholic Church in this country is part of a global Church.

Many inquiries and investigations into abuse have happened and many “have revealed events which should never have happened, and for which the Pope and the Catholic leaders in those areas have expressed great regret”.

But Ms McKechnie said the bishops and congregational leaders ask the royal commission to “consider the entities within the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand in their full context and in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand”.

NZ clergy abuse prevalence posited by Aust. researchers

Australian researchers have projected how offending rates for Catholic
clergy and male religious brothers in New Zealand, in the area of child sexual abuse, might line up with those in other nations.

Professor Des Cahill and Dr Peter Wilkinson of RMIT University in Australia
spoke at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care, on the last day of a “contextual hearing” on November 8.

The two have expertise in the inquiries by governments and churches into
child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and religious groups worldwide, as well as the measures that came from the inquiries.

At the Auckland hearing, according to a file on the royal commission website, they stated that, “In considering the prevalence of child sexual abuse by New Zealand diocesan, religious priests, brothers and sisters, there is nothing to suggest, in historical terms, based on the prevalence in comparable countries, that the offending rate of New Zealand diocesan
priests would not be in the range from 5 to 7 per cent”.

“Among religious order priests, the prevalence is probably in the 2 per cent
to 5 per cent range, but it may be lower because few male religious priests had schools and youth ministry in their apostolic mission,” they added.

The researchers stated New Zealand has always had a “relatively high” proportion of religious order priests, compared to Australia, which would have a “dampening effect upon the number of offending priests and the number of victims”.

For religious brothers, the New Zealand prevalence is likely to be less than
the Australian average of about one in eight, they stated.

Reasons for this include New Zealand moving away from large scale orphanages and other residential institutions to a foster care system (a system not without its own problems) significantly earlier than Australia and the Republic of Ireland, they said. And New Zealand was less impacted by child migration from the UK and Malta than was Australia. The number of Catholic boarding schools in New Zealand declined after World War II and the number of religious brothers in New Zealand was always relatively
modest (116 in 2017 after peaking at 385 in 1966).

But a very significant factor in the lower prevalence for religious brothers
in New Zealand was “in the post-WWII period, all Catholic orphanages have been sponsored by female religious orders”.

The researchers said they were “unsure about the situation about the St
John of God Brothers”.

They also commented on child safeguarding initiatives, including in the New Zealand Church.

Looking at systematic factors as to why clerical abuse of children happened
in the Church, Professor Cahill and Dr Wilkinson believe it is useful to focus
on five constellations of variables: (a) the psychosexual abnormalities and situational factors; (b) access to children and vulnerable adults; (c) the uniform response of bishops and religious superiors; (d) the cultural and praxis factors, especially the culture of clericalism; and (e) pre-service and in-service training in the seminaries and houses of formation.

They looked at these areas and more in their wide-ranging testimony. In their critique of formation programmes, including at seminaries, they noted “it must be acknowledged that [seminaries and houses of formation] did produce many good, competent and pastorally-minded priests”.

Their testimony included a presentation and assessment of the parts of
the Report of the Australian Royal Commission (Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse), which dealt with religious institutions, especially the
Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Orthodox Jewish community and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how care mechanisms failed when the needs of religious personnel were placed ahead of those of the victims.

The researchers noted that, “in the studies of the various countries studied,
including those for Australia, it is clear there has been a substantial decline in clerical child sexual abuse since the 1980s. Offences are still being committed, but rarely. However, this will not apply in developing countries, where the veil of secrecy has not been lifted”.

Among their conclusions, Professor Cahill and Dr Wilkinson stated that “for parents to have their patient, time consuming and loving handiwork of rearing a child to adulthood, damaged or destroyed by abusing clergy and religious, is the very core of the evil of this religious tragedy”.

They also stated their work suggests that “a thorough-going renewal of the
Catholic priestly ministry in policy and praxis is needed, including the abrogation of mandatory celibacy, although this would not be a panacea”.

“Its work, its errors, the lessons they have learned, and the lessons they are
still to learn.”

“The history of care provided by Catholic entities in New Zealand is … complex. As you will hear in evidence in your future inquiries, I am sure, it is a history of both significant societal good and times of intense shame,” the lawyer also noted.

Reference was made to a presentation that day by Australian researchers Professor Des Cahill and Dr Peter Wilkinson, both priests no longer in canonical ministry.

Among other things, the researchers sought to look at the New Zealand
context by drawing parallels with other countries and making some global generalisations.

“Now, while our clients do not agree with all of the evidence given by Professor Cahill and Dr Wilkinson and, as you have heard, there is a range of perspectives amongst Catholics and Catholic entities, around the world and, indeed, in New Zealand, they accept and acknowledge that there are very serious issues to consider,” Ms McKechnie said.

“There will be parallels which you can draw from the global experience but, because of the size and the structure and the nature of the Catholic community and leadership here in Aotearoa, there are significant differences that will need your exploration. Professor Cahill and Dr Wilkinson highlighted some of those differences in their evidence this

During the first few sentences of the address by Ms McKechnie, it was strongly emphasised that survivors who have not approached authorities are encouraged to approach the National Office for Professional Standards or the police.

Encouragement was also given to survivors to come forward to share their
experiences with the royal commission.

Most of the evidence given at the contextual hearing focused on abuse in
state care.

It is understood that the royal commission will release a draft scoping document for the investigation into the Catholic Church in December.

Sources close to the inquiry state it is reasonably believed that the royal
commission will examine areas like prevalence of abuse, historic responses,
safeguarding, formation, and current redress processes, as well as how features of the Catholic Church may perceivably contribute to abuse.

It is believed that these investigations will run as “mini-commissions”, with counsel appointed by the royal commission to lead the investigation, public hearings and the submission of evidence.

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