Church appoints KC to investigate paedophile ring

Glendining Presbyterian Children’s Homes, pictured in 1950. Photo: Evening Star
Glendining Presbyterian Children’s Homes, pictured in 1950. Photo: Evening Star
A King’s Counsel has been appointed to look into allegations of a historical paedophile ring operating among Dunedin’s Presbyterian Church community.

The church has launched an investigation into allegations which arose during a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care hearing last month.

The hearing heard how one survivor alleged she had been passed around a ring of paedophiles comprised of Presbyterian Church parish members while she was a child residing at Presbyterian Support Otago’s (PSO) Glendining Presbyterian Children’s Homes in Dunedin.

Church assembly executive secretary the Rev Wayne Matheson said the hearing was the first the church had heard of the allegations, and that the church and PSO were separate organisations.

The church launched an investigation, and has now both finalised terms of reference and appointed a senior King’s Counsel as an independent investigator.

Once the Royal Commission gave permission to access material, the investigator would start work.

"Child abuse is illegal and abhorrent," Mr Matheson said.

"Our church believes that any form of abuse is totally unacceptable, and that any allegation of abuse must be investigated without delay.

"If what we discover from this investigation challenges us, then with compassion, integrity, and openness we will address it.

"We will apologise, seek justice, and uphold Christian values and principles as we find ways to make amends and to learn,” Mr Matheson said.

Because the church was a separate entity from PSO, it could only investigate the allegations that relate to Presbyterian church members.

PSO has confirmed it will support the church in its investigation and any survivors who would like to provide information to, or participate in the investigation, he said.

If the investigation uncovered abuse and wrongdoing by church members, it would lay complaints through its own church processes alongside, or following, whatever action the police may take, Mr Matheson said.

Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive Jo O’Neill said that, like the church, the PSO was horrified by the allegations about historical sexual abuse involving parishioners in the 1950s in Dunedin.

"PSO appreciates that the church is disappointed that these allegations were only brought to the attention of the church following the royal commission hearing," she said.

"However, the allegations were made to PSO by a survivor and the survivor’s legal representatives, and legally the allegations were not able to be shared with the church without the survivor’s consent, because the church is a separate entity to PSO."

PSO had fully co-operated with the commission and would continue to engage with survivors.

"At the royal commission hearing, PSO extended a further invitation to speak with anyone who wanted to discuss their experiences.

"PSO again extends that offer," Ms O’Neill said.

PSO ran two care facilities, Glendining Presbyterian Children’s Homes in Andersons Bay and Marama Home, in Lawrence.

It had received six complaints about abuse, all at Glendining.

Three related to 1950-1960, and three between the late 1980s and 1991, when the facility closed.

The complaints were made between 2004 and 2019.