Church to study interim reports

Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Wellington

Catholic Church leaders in New Zealand will carefully study the interim reports of the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care, to learn lessons that will help the Church continue to better address the way it deals with complaints and prevent abuse.

The royal commission published its first interim reports on December 16.

“These reports will contain much important information and guidance that follow on from what survivors have told the commissioners about their experiences,” said Catherine Fyfe, chair of the Church’s Te Rōpū Tautoko agency.

“Church leaders will be discussing these reports widely, with the aim of looking at how we can continue to improve the way we help people who have been abused, and the systems we have in place to prevent further abuse.”

Te Rōpū Tautoko member and Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, said: “The bishops and congregational leaders as well as many individual Church members listened carefully to the experiences of survivors as they spoke at the recent royal commission redress hearings. We want the events of the past to be examined transparently and openly. We are deeply sorry for the harm caused to so many by the abuse they suffered, and we continue to express our profound sorrow.”

Te Rōpū Tautoko is the agency that coordinates and manages cooperation between the Catholic Church and the royal commission. It was formed by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (representing the bishops of the country’s six dioceses) and the Congregational Leaders’ Conference (representing Catholic religious congregations in New Zealand).

Catholic Church leaders asked for the Church and other faith-based bodies to be included in the royal commission’s terms of reference, which originally included only state organisations.

Numbers projected for abuse in faith-based care

Research by consultants for the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care estimated that between 42,342 and 83,841 people were abused in faithbased care settings in New Zealand between 1950 and 2019.

The research, by MartinJenkins, estimated that 254,000 people passed through faith-based care settings in those years. This was out of an estimated total of 655,000 people in those years who were in care in four types of settings — social welfare care, state educational care, state health and disability care, as well as the faith-based care. These represent a subset of the full range of settings in the inquiry’s terms of reference.

MartinJenkins estimated that 254,000 people were in faith-based care settings from 1950 to 2019, with: 143,000 people (56 per cent) in faith-based children’s homes,
orphanages, and foster homes; 109,000 (43 per cent) in faith-based boarding schools; 1600 (0.6 per cent) in faith-based residential disability care settings.

In the 1950s, MartinJenkins estimate that 53,000 people were in faith-based care settings, reducing to around 25,000 people by the 2010s.

Of the estimated 655,000 who passed through care in total, MartinJenkins estimate that between 17 per cent (114,000) and 39 per cent (256,000) experienced abuse while in care.

A report published on December 16 alongside the royal commission’s interim report stated that: “While there are substantial gaps in the data available for this cohort analysis, it is clear that more people have passed through the care settings examined than was previously known or, in some cases, estimated before the establishment of the inquiry. Even on the most conservative indicative estimates, there has been more abuse in care than previously thought. On any assessment, this is a serious and long-standing social problem that needs to be addressed.”

“We will probably never know for certain how many children, young people, and vulnerable adults were abused in care in Aotearoa New Zealand in the period 1950 to 2019,” the report noted. “We can, however, make indicative estimates and continue to develop our knowledge . . . throughout the life of the inquiry.” Nonetheless, the report cautioned that the indicative estimates of the number of people who were in care, and numbers who may have been abused in care, developed by MartinJenkins are high-level indicative estimates only.

“Due to the lack of Aotearoa New Zealand research on the prevalence of abuse in care, MartinJenkins’ indicative estimates on this are based largely on international studies. International studies are, however, more heavily weighted towards some types of abuse than others (for example, physical and sexual abuse) and mostly exclude neglect. This means the indicative estimates of abuse provided by MartinJenkins would almost certainly be higher, and possibly significantly higher, had they included all forms of abuse within the scope of the inquiry.”

The royal commission’s scope, by comparison, is much broader and encompasses physical and sexual abuse, as well as emotional and psychological abuse, and neglect. MartinJenkins’ indicative estimates of prevalence may, therefore, not reflect all forms of abuse within the scope of the Inquiry, the report stated.

It was also noted that caution is required when applying overseas studies to Aotearoa New Zealand.

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