Scale of abuse in New Zealand Catholic Church revealed in research project: 1680 reports of abuse since 1950

Image Cover Fact Sheet cropped

The scale of reported alleged abuse within the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand has become known for the first time from extensive research undertaken by the Church at the request of the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care.

A total of 1680 reports of abuse were made by 1122 individuals against Catholic clergy, brothers, nuns, sisters and lay people from 1950 to the present, with 592 alleged abusers named.

Almost half the reported abuse involved sexual harm. The 1960s and 1970s were the decades with the most abuse reported, with 75 per cent dated before 1990.

The results of this research have been requested by and provided to the royal commission. The definition of abuse used is the one used by the commission, and includes reports of sexual, physical, emotional, psychological and neglect. According to an “Information Gathering Project Fact Sheet” from Te Rōpū Tautoko, “failure to act on reports and facilitating abuse were also included in the categorisation of reports of abuse”.

The research was undertaken by Te Rōpū Tautoko, the group that coordinates Church engagement with the royal commission.

According to a media statement issued by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, Te Rōpū Tautoko encourages anyone who has suffered abuse in the care of the Church to approach the police, the royal commission, the Church’s agency for managing reports of abuse (the National Office for Professional Standards, or NOPS), or one of the many support groups and networks that exist for survivors.

Te Rōpū Tautoko sought and examined records – in what is called an “Information Gathering Project” – from the country’s six Catholic dioceses, and from 43 Catholic religious congregations. The research included records of 428 Catholic parishes, 370 Catholic schools and 67 other care institutions. The findings include:

  • Of the 1274 Catholic diocesan clergy (those who work under a bishop, not for a congregation) who have worked in New Zealand since 1950, 378 reports were made about 182 (14 per cent) of those clergy.
  • Of the 2286 male congregational members (brothers and priests belonging to a congregation) who have worked here since 1950, 599 reports were made about 187 (8 per cent) of them.
  • Of the 4247 female congregational members (sisters or nuns) who have worked here since 1950, 258 reports were made about 120 of them, or 3 per cent.
  • Of the 1680 complaints, 1350 involved children and 164 involved adults, with the age of a further 167 not established by the research. Of the 1680, almost half (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. A further 219 were at unidentified locations.


According to the NZCBC media statement, Te Rōpū Tautoko acknowledges that the records will not represent all the abuse that has happened in the care of the Catholic Church, as the research only covers recorded reports. Not all the reports of alleged abuse found during the research resulted in police complaints or criminal convictions. Not all the reports were upheld at the time they were made, or subsequently, but many were.

Not all the alleged abusers were identified – 308 of the reports were against unidentified people. A total of 1296 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 per cent of all reports of alleged abuse.

A further 138 allegations of abuse were made against 103 other individuals, mostly lay staff, volunteers and similar people involved with the Church.

Catherine Fyfe, chair of Te Rōpū Tautoko, said: “Church leaders are committed to ensuring transparency. Consistent with this principle, we have published this information now, as soon as the work on it has been completed.  It is important to note that the extent of reports of abuse in the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand has not been collated before now. The Information Gathering Project was a major exercise involving dozens of people over two years.” This work involved searching paper files dating back 70 years in hundreds of places, she added.

Sister Margaret Anne Mills, DOLC, president of the Congregational Leaders Conference of Aotearoa New Zealand (representing Catholic religious orders and similar entities), said: “Each piece of data represents many people’s lives. Much of it represents terrible harm committed by one person on another. We can never forget that. Being involved in being part of healing that harm, as much as is possible, is, and needs to continue to be, our focus. All Church leaders need to urgently understand and acknowledge our shared history; understand and acknowledge the shocking impact of abuse in Church settings on victims and their families; understand what it means for survivors and our faith communities; and act today.”

Cardinal John Dew, president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, said: “These statistics on abuse in the Catholic Church going back to 1950 are horrifying and something we are deeply ashamed of. I am grateful that so much work has been done in researching the details and making them public. As we continue to respond to the royal commission into abuse, and we build a safer Church for everyone, I firmly hope that facts like these will help us to face the sad reality. The Church will learn from this and affirm its commitment to the work of safeguarding.”

The publication of the research comes shortly before the royal commission is scheduled to start hearings that will investigate events at Marylands School in Christchurch. A public hearing is planned to take place from February 9-17 in Auckland.

Marylands was a residential school for boys, many with disabilities, run from the 1950s to 1984 by the Hospitaller Order of St John of God brothers. The commission 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.

In total, 236 reports of abuse relate to Marylands School and the Hebron Trust. That represents 14 per cent of all the abuse complaints compiled in the research. The three most prolific offenders worked at Marylands, and the most prolific offender went on to establish the Hebron Trust. A further 239 reports of abuse (also 14 per cent of the total) relate to St Joseph’s Orphanage and Nazareth House, Christchurch. Half of those reports do not identify an offender.

A resource document from Te Rōpū Tautoko for Catholic school and parish leaders, issued ahead of February hearing, stated that “the abuse that will be described by survivors . . .  highlights a dark and appalling part of the Church’s history in New Zealand”.

“The period of time and events relating to Marylands and the early days of the Hebron Trust have been the subject of many court cases and subsequent settlements and resulted in much media coverage during the 1990s and 2000s. This will also inform the commission’s investigation, and whether there are any systemic, structural or other factors which contributed to the abuse occurring, and the adequacy of the response by the Catholic Church to allegations of abuse,” the resource document stated.

“These accounts, combined with those of many other victims and survivors of abuse in the care of the Catholic Church, at Marylands or elsewhere, will help the royal commission to make findings about what happened and why, and any appropriate recommendations for change.”

According to the IGP fact sheet, a total of NZ$16.8 million has been paid directly to approximately 470 survivors in pastoral or ex-gratia payments by Catholic church entities. Of the total, NZ$8 million has been paid to survivors by the St John of God Brothers, and nearly $2 million (NZD) has been paid by the Sisters of Nazareth.

In addition, the IGP report stated, Church entities have provided paid counselling and other therapeutic and social support. Some other in-kind support has been provided, such as payment of school fees or the purchase of household items. These are not included in the total above.



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NZ Catholic Staff

Reader Interactions


  1. Hamish says

    The danger completely overlooked or perhaps
    sidelined is the evasive tactics of the Secular
    Humanist who has penetrated deeply into not
    just western society, but the church itself even
    with religious falling into the trap.
    Fr Karl Rahner SJ, advisor to Vatican II put it
    this way :
    “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or
    not exist at all”.

    If Jesus Christ is not the Lord, then who is?

  2. Rosemary Scaturchio says

    I am so happy to see this article and know that finally New Zealand is doing something about the sexual, psychological and emotional damage caused by Nuns AND Priests in the ’50’s. I have lived in Australia for the bulk of my adult life and could never re-visit the Church or School where I attended primary school. Thank the Lord that my parents sent my sister and I to Baradene for our secondary years. The difference was chalk and cheese and I learnt not to be scared to go to school anymore. With this my bed wetting stopped and I began to take in what I was being taught. I began to enjoy school and felt happy and safe. However, the fear of my years at Good Shepherd Telford Ave Mt Eden has never left me and I hope that Father McMahon especially is at the top of the list to be examined. For cruelty to children there should be Sisters Edward (Std 1) teacher in the mid ’50’s, Catherine Std 4 teacher also in the mid ’50’s and the nun who took Std 5 & 6 ’58/’59. She loved her strap and loved to curl it around the hand and arm so as to leave a huge welt for the rest of the day. This didn’t change me, it simply taught me the meaning of hate. I know that McMahon touched the altar boys, because at a school reunion, one of the boys, in my class, admitted it to a group of the girls, in my class, the treatment dealt out to him, as an altar boy. Through that reunion, I found out that due to the Sisters of St Joseph and Fr. McMahon none of my class (except myself) continued life as practicing Catholic’s. That is the damage that those so called “carer’s” did to us. Thank God, my parents had a very close relationship with God and taught my sister and I how to separate, the evil done at Good Shepherd, from our loving God.

  3. Garth says

    My experience at St Paul’s college Grey Lynn was difficult as I was not an actual baptized Catholic but an Anglican, but as a boy of 11 years I didn’t know much of those things. Consequently, I believe I was subject to being significantly disadvantaged as a result. I also believe I had or have an undiagnosed disorder of As Burgeis syndrome, which also contributed to a feeling of alienation in all areas of growth be it sport or academia. So I don’t entirely blame the school how- ever they shouldn’t have allowed my attendance to such an institution of this nature to have resulted, so my actual parent have the blame as well. But an observation of how St Paul’s operated from 75 to 79 as a boarder there it was more a -kin to some sort of prison for boys. I received a fair bit of abuses from both the boys and the staff there. At one point I almost took one of those guys out my self with shear anger at the abuse and a sense of complete alienation. I still feel very angry today. A real bastard of a place I reckon I didn’t deserve that. Thanks for nothing you bastards.

  4. Editor says

    Thanks for your message, Garth. The Church takes allegations of abuse seriously. The National Office for Professional Standards can be contacted through 0800114622 or [email protected] You can also inform the Police about what happened. NZ Catholic.

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