Church silence slammed by abuse survivors

The refusal of the Catholic Church in New Zealand to reveal its secrets has been blasted by a survivors’ group, amid calls for a "full and frank" disclosure of paedophile priests under its watch.

On Saturday, an ODT Insight investigation, as part of its ongoing "Marked by the Cross" series,  detailed fresh allegations against two Christian Brothers in Dunedin, dating back to the early 1970s.

One of the men, Br Desmond Fay, was accused by a mother of driving her son to suicide, after abusing the boy while the principal of Christian Brothers Junior School.

Br Fay was later moved overseas following the intervention of a Dunedin priest, Fr Kevin Kean, the mother said.

The allegations came days after a fuller picture of offending by paedophile priest Fr Magnus Murray, and the church’s handling of him, was also revealed.

However, Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley and Monsignor the Rt Rev John Harrison, of the Dunedin diocese, have refused to answer questions about the latest allegations, as has the Christian Brothers order.

Prof David Tombs, the head of the University of Otago’s theology and public issues centre, said the church’s response followed an international pattern.

Overseas, a grand jury report detailing the cover-up of abuses by 300 clergy in Pennsylvania had highlighted the church’s "playbook for concealing the truth", he said.

The steps included playing down descriptions of the offending, moving abusive clergy to new parishes, keeping complaints secret and, above all, not telling police.

The same pattern appeared to be evident in New Zealand, including in Dunedin, Prof Tombs said.

"Reading the recent reports of church responses to the abuses of Fr [Magnus] Murray and Br Desmond Fay, it is hard not to think of the playbook described by the grand jury.

"From what has already emerged in Fr Max Murray’s case, all seven ‘plays’ seem to apply."

The systemic failure, and the church’s refusal to discuss it, showed why New Zealand’s upcoming Royal Commission into historic abuse needed to be expanded, he said.

But there was no need for the church  to wait for the royal commission, and the institution should start to answer questions with "honesty and candour", he said.

"A full and frank disclosure is required, covering both the crimes and the cover-ups," he said.

In Pennsylvania, the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg has  named 71 priests and other church members accused of abusing children, and plans to strip the names of bishops who failed to act from church properties.

A call for similar action has been made in Dunedin, where Dr Murray Heasley, a spokesman for a survivors’ support group, has argued for Kavanagh College to be renamed.

The college’s name honoured Bishop John Kavanagh, who moved Fr Murray to Australia, and then endorsed his return to public ministry in New Zealand, after parents complained about his offending in 1972.

The Dunedin diocese has defended Bishop Kavanagh, saying he acted according to the processes and understanding of the day.

But it has also refused to answer ODT Insight questions about whether it would follow in Pennsylvania’s footsteps.

Dr Heasley said the refusal was "a denial of responsibility — a morally and ethically indefensible position".

"I view this as gross moral negligence on their part. No comment is damning. They are obliged to comment."

He renewed calls for Kavanagh College to be renamed, and for alleged offenders here to be revealed, saying his group "fully" supported the steps taken in Pennsylvania.

"This finally empowers victims and stops the practice of defending perpetrators."

Add a Comment

Local journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Otago Daily Times reporters and photographers continue to bring you the stories that matter. For more than 158 years our journalists have provided readers with local news you can trust. This is more important now than ever.

As advertising drops off during the pandemic, support from our readers is crucial. You can help us continue to bring you news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter