NOPS to investigate Bishop Kavanagh’s handling of abuse complaints

The Catholic Church has appointed an experienced independent investigator to look at whether a former Bishop of Dunedin, Bishop John Kavanagh, acted properly when he received complaints of sexual abuse.

The Metropolitan Archbishop of New Zealand, Cardinal John Dew, has instructed the Church’s complaints body – the National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS) – to investigate Bishop Kavanagh’s handling of abuse complaints while bishop from 1957 to 1985.

NOPS has appointed Christchurch senior investigator Micky Earl of the firm Corporate Risks to conduct the investigation.

Cardinal Dew said a number of victims of abuse in the Dunedin diocese had complained that Bishop Kavanagh – who died in 1985 – had not properly dealt with their complaints of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Dew referred the concerns about Bishop Kavanagh to Rome under a decree Pope Francis issued last year. The decree, titled Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), requires the metropolitan archbishop of a country to inquire into and report to Rome any serious allegations against a bishop.

“I was advised by Rome that the complaints about Bishop Kavanagh’s handling of abuse complaints do not come within Rome’s scope because he is deceased,” said Cardinal Dew. “I therefore instructed NOPS to undertake an investigation under our Church protocol for matters of abuse, A Path to Healing.

“Mr Earl is a very experienced investigator,” said Cardinal Dew. “The scope of his investigation will focus on understanding what information Bishop Kavanagh held regarding complaints of sexual abuse, and whether he met his obligations as bishop in how he responded to and managed those complaints.”

Recommendations made to Cardinal Dew could help form the basis for any decision to rename Kavanagh College in Dunedin, which some people have called for.

Cardinal Dew says he encourages anyone who has concerns regarding inappropriate behaviour in a Church setting to contact NOPS.

“NOPS operates independently of diocesan and congregation structures. It contracts professional, experienced and independent third-party investigators to conduct investigations on its behalf,” said Cardinal Dew.

“We are committed to a safe environment for all within the Church community. Any form of misconduct or inappropriate behaviour in the Church community is not acceptable.”

The Otago Daily Times reported the actions involved a former Catholic priest, Magnus Murray, who abused boys in Dunedin from the 1950s to the 1970s. It said the abuse was brought to Bishop Kavanagh’s attention in 1972.

Bishop Kavanagh moved Murray to Australia and later allowed him to resume public ministry in the North Island, where more victims have since emerged, the Times reported.

NOPS: free phone 0800 114 622, email, website


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NZ Catholic Staff

Reader Interactions


  1. Matt Epsom says

    The National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS) is not “the Church’s independent complaints body.” That statement is misleading. NOPS is an agency of the official Catholic Church in New Zealand. Even its investigators are on the NZCBC payroll. It is overseen by another committee, the National Safeguarding Committee, appointed directly by the Mixed Commission which is the NZ Catholic Bishops and the Congregational Leaders. It would be helpful to correct this misleading statement.

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