Some of the institutions of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand appeared at the Faith-based Institutional Response Hearing at the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care on October 17.
According to a Te Rōpū Tautoko update that was emailed to parishioners in at least one Auckland parish, nine witnesses were called to give evidence. The first session of the day concerned Catholic education, with the context of St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, being a focus. The second part of the day consisted of two sessions, involving two panels of leaders from the Catholic community.
The day started with an opening statement from Sally McKechnie, counsel for Te Rōpū Tautoko (which co-ordinates and manages engagement between the royal commission and the Catholic Church in Aotearoa, represented by the Catholic bishops and congregational leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand).
Ms McKechnie started by acknowledging the survivors who have suffered harm and abuse while in the care of Catholic institutions. Some of this harm took place in Catholic schools, including St Patrick’s College, Silverstream. She emphasised that harm to people in the care of Catholic institutions and entities is unacceptable and indefensible.
After speaking about Catholic education in this country and about St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, within that context, Ms McKechnie stated that this school is only one example of a Catholic school, and therefore does not, and cannot, in itself, represent all state-integrated Catholic schools in New Zealand.
The Te Rōpū Tautoko update stated that Ms McKechnie went on to outline the reports of abuse relating to alleged historical abuse at the college from the 1950s to the 1980s, and more contemporary incidents requiring an employment disciplinary response, from 2005 to the present.
Society of Mary
The update went on to state that Fr Tim Duckworth, SM, provincial of the Society of Mary, gave evidence from Rome, via an audio-visual link. His evidence largely focused on the prevention of, and responses to, reports of abuse relating to St Patrick’s College, Silverstream. He acknowledged that the response to some of the reports of abuse, particularly to those reports that were made in the 1970s and 1980s, lacked compassion and insight. He commended the courage of those boys and men who spoke up and reported abuse.
The Te Rōpū Tautoko update stated that Fr Duckworth gave his view of why some responses by the Society of Mary to reports of abuse made contemporaneous to the offending, were inadequate and did not put the victims first. He acknowledged that the Society has responded inadequately to those complaints, and that that is not how it would be done now.
He also answered several questions from the commissioners about the teachings of the Church regarding sexuality and sexual abuse from the 1930s to the 1980s; the development of policies and knowledge in responding to and preventing abuse from occurring in the college; how the Society of Mary sees the application of mandatory reporting in the confessional space; the representation of Māori, Pacifika and other ethnicities in leadership roles within the Society of Mary; and the Society of Mary’s responsibility for the moral, ethical and spiritual values of the kura (school).
A panel consisting of leaders from St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, were the next to give evidence. The panel was made up of Dr Clare Couch (chairperson of the Board of Proprietors), Mr Sean Mahony (chairperson of the School Board), and Mr Rob Ferreira (Rector/Tumuaki).
The panel’s evidence discussed the school today, and canvassed a number of themes, including how, in practice, the School Board as a Crown entity, gives effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and how the college implements active protection and partnership in accordance with Te Tiriti in the context of preventing harm. The panel gave evidence about the college’s involvement in, and responsibility for, allegations of abuse by Society of Mary members that occurred prior to the college’s integration, how reports of abuse are responded to by the college today, the barriers to disclosing abuse at the college and current safeguarding practices, and the record-keeping practices of the college. The panel’s evidence addressed requests for removal of portraits at the college, and how both the Board of Proprietors and the School Board deals with such requests.
The panel answered a number of questions from the commissioners about the college’s current relationship with its history of abuse and historical redress processes, how the college creates safe spaces for students of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities, and changes that have been made to recognise students of the rainbow community at the college, the Te Rōpū Tautoko update added.
Later in the hearing, Ms McKechnie summarised how the dioceses and congregations of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa have engaged with the royal commission to date, noting that the scale of this engagement demonstrates their commitment to this process of change.
She outlined the changes that have been made by Catholic entities since the mid-1990s in the prevention of abuse, response to abuse, and safeguarding spaces.
Finally, she also set out that, over the last four years, Te Rōpū Tautoko has been compiling statistical information on records of reports of abuse across Catholic entities, and that has been published.
According to the Te Rōpū Tautoko update, Bishop Patrick Dunn (Bishop Emeritus of Auckland) and Bishop Stephen Lowe (Bishop of Auckland and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Hamilton) were the next to give evidence.
Bishop Dunn gave evidence in relation to several reports of abuse against Sateki Raass, a priest of the Diocese of Tonga, who was granted permission to minister in Auckland Diocese in 2006. (In 2019, Raass pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent communication with a person under 16, and was sentenced to 100 hours’ community service. He left the priesthood.) Bishop Dunn reflected on responses to these reports of abuse, engagement with distinct Catholic cultures and communities, and the Dispensation Rescript that formalises an individual’s removal from the clerical state, often called laicisation. A focus of the commissioner’s questions was on the support given to the respondents of abuse, in this case Sateki Raass, rather than those reporting abuse, in this case victims of a criminal offence and family. A specific focus was on a process to assist Mr Raass gain employment, following a request from a principal of a Catholic school, after Mr Raass had left the priesthood, and after he had served his community service sentence.
Bishop Lowe briefly gave evidence about the process for responding to reports of abuse today, including A Path to Healing, and the referral of complaints to the National Office of Professional Standards. He also discussed current safeguarding policies, programmes and protocols.
The Te Rōpū Tautoko update added that the last panel to give evidence for the day consisted of Cardinal John Dew (Archbishop of Wellington), Sister Sue France, RSM, (congregational leader, Nga Whaea Atawhai O Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand), and Dr Paul Flanagan (member of the National Safeguarding and Professional Standards Committee).
Cardinal Dew began his evidence by acknowledging the abuse experienced by survivors in Catholic entities, and the failings of Catholic leaders in responding to and preventing abuse, the update stated. The cardinal emphasised that Catholic leaders within dioceses and congregations are working together to determine how abuse came about, and what is needed to be done to prevent it.
Sr Sue apologised for the harm to children in the care of Sisters of Mercy institutions, and explained that the congregation has implemented change over time, and that she wants to discuss what more needs to be done.
Dr Flanagan acknowledged the abuse experienced by survivors, and the shameful fact that people in authority, who may have known about abuse, did not act in the victims’ favour. Dr Flanagan gave evidence about the role of the National Safeguarding Professional Standards Committee and its relationship with NOPS. He also outlined the key areas of safeguarding and preventative practices, and the continuing work undertaken around safeguarding, so that it is a transparent, accountable and robust process.
The panel’s evidence included discussion about A Path to Healing and the Complaints Assessment Committee processes, and also touched on the uniqueness of the Church structure in Aotearoa New Zealand, in comparison to the rest of the world, and how structural changes are being made in the universal Church.
The Te Rōpū Tautoko update stated that a part of the questioning by commissioners related to questions of mandatory reporting and the seal of confession. Cardinal Dew reported that, in all his years as a priest, no one had disclosed their abuse of another person during confession, reminding those watching that Fr Tim Duckworth had made a similar statement in the morning. The update noted that, at times, there were obvious tensions when survivors were responding to statements by witnesses. This included a walk-out when Cardinal Dew’s comments about disclosures in the confessional were interpreted as him never receiving a disclosure of abuse ever.
Before the Catholic institutions hearing, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Aotearoa New Zealand reiterated its previous calls for Catholic Church leaders to authorise an audit of the Church’s National Office for Professional Standards. Such an audit should be done by an external body, SNAP stated. They have written to Pope Francis on such matters.
On the final day of the hearing, SNAP spokesman Dr Christopher Longhurst reportedly told commissioners that abusers should not get second chances. “Survivors get no second chances. They do not get a second chance at childhood, they cannot request a second chance to a life free of abuse,” he said.