Catholic Church

Vulnerable New Zealand children were failed by the church and state, an official says. Photo: file
Vulnerable New Zealand children were failed by the church and state, an official says. Photo: file

New Zealand's most vulnerable children were failed by Church and State, the head of the Catholic Church's National Office for Professional Standards says.

Bill Kilgallon told ODT Insight the Church's New Zealand office, created in 2004 to investigate historic abuse claims, had fielded about 22 complaints a year since 2013.

About 20 a year related to ''non-recent behaviour against children'', either within a church setting or involving clergy within the state care system, he said.

''A number of the complaints we're dealing with would be children who were in state care but placed in an establishment run by the Church - Marylands, for example,'' he said.

The complaints of abuse, cruelty and very poor conditions showed the level of care by the State or Church was ''very often very poor'', he said.

And the Church, in particular, ''should have achieved better than the State'', he believed.

''It comes back to one thing - why are you taking children into care? You're taking them into care because their situation at home is intolerable.

''The obligation therefore, on the State or whoever is providing the alternative care, is to provide something much better than they came from.

''For too many of these children, that wasn't the case. They didn't get anywhere better. In some cases, they got something worse.''

Mr Kilgallon, a former priest from Yorkshire, came to New Zealand to retire in 2013, but was instead recruited to take up his new role.

In March, he was also appointed to the Catholic Church's Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by Pope Francis to advise on the protection of children from sexual abuse.

Mr Kilgallon said increased media scrutiny and public awareness was behind the number of complaints in New Zealand dealt with by his office in recent years.

All complaints were passed on to police if the alleged offender was still alive and the complainant willing to seek a prosecution.

If not, complaints were investigated by the Church, which used a group of mainly retired police investigators to determine whether it should be upheld.

If it was, the Church would offer counselling, financial settlements or ''whatever other acknowledgement is necessary'' to victims, he said.

Many offenders at the centre of historic allegations had already died, but some faced justice, including former Catholic priest Mark Brown, Mr Kilgallon said.

Brown was jailed for molesting boys in Auckland in the 1970s and 1980s, but was now awaiting sentencing again after admitting offending against three more boys.

It was a legacy that was likely to continue, as many victims took decades to come forward, but at least now Church and State were listening.

''If you're a parent, one of your jobs is to be an advocate for your child. The children who went into state care very often had nobody in the role as their advocate.

''When they were getting poor care, there was nobody arguing their case for them.''

ODT Insight: A State of Abuse:

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