Greater transparency wanted over agreement

Catholic Bishop of Dunedin the Most Rev Michael Dooley. Photo: ODT files
Catholic Bishop of Dunedin the Most Rev Michael Dooley. Photo: ODT files
A support group for survivors of sexual abuse by priests wants more transparency over an agreement struck with the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin.

But the call by Dr Christopher Longhurst, representing the New Zealand branch of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), has also triggered an acrimonious exchange with another support group.

Dr Longhurst, a Wellington-based abuse survivor and Catholic Institute academic, contacted the Otago Daily Times this week to draw attention to concerns about an agreement signed earlier this year.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Catholic Bishop of Dunedin the Most Rev Michael Dooley and representatives from the Male Survivors Aotearoa (MSA) support group in March.

MSA describes itself as New Zealand's recognised national organisation for male survivors of sexual violence, and says it supports more than 1500 survivors across the country, including more than 40 in Dunedin.

The memorandum of understanding spells out a process by which survivors of faith-based abuse will be referred by the Church to a new MSA group launched in Dunedin, which will help survivors access counselling and other services.

It also includes a commercial relationship between the two parties, whereby the church will provide MSA with some funding for counselling and other support services for survivors.

This week, Dr Longhurst told the ODT he was concerned the signatories were not prepared to make public a copy of the agreement.

He said Snap was an international movement launched in the US in 1988, and now represented 25,000 survivors and supporters internationally. It launched a New Zealand chapter - headed by him - earlier this year.

Snap New Zealand wanted a copy to use as a template for its own agreements, and emailed Bishop Dooley in July to request one, but Male Survivors Aotearoa had replied, declining to release the "confidential agreement".

That prompted Dr Longhurst to email Bishop Dooley again in September, asking him to "desist" from signing such confidential agreements in future, arguing such secrecy had harmed victims before.

The secrecy also contradicted Pope Francis' recent efforts to promote transparency and openness, Dr Longhurst argued.

The email prompted a response from Male Survivors Aotearoa trustee Tony Chamberlain, who emailed Snap's international chief executive, Zach Hiner, to say the requests were "totally disrespectful and completely inappropriate".

"We consider the letter [email] a totally offensive affront to the integrity of all concerned," Mr Chamberlain said in the email to Mr Hiner.

Copies of the emails were shared with the ODT this week, and Dr Longhurst maintained the approach was wrong, although he stressed he was not making a "personal attack" on Bishop Dooley.

"The issue is very clear. It's wrong for any peer support group to get into confidential agreements with the Catholic Church - absolutely wrong."

MSA chairman Philip Chapman defended the agreement - the existence of which was not confidential - as well as Bishop Dooley, who had been "totally supportive" and "clearly concerned for" survivors.

The agreement was in the best interests of survivors and the group's purpose, and its most important element was an assurance of the confidentiality of support services provided to survivors, he said.

It also included a "modest" financial contribution from the church, which was invested "directly in the support services for the survivors referred", he said.

Bishop Dooley, contacted overseas, said he also valued the chance to support survivors, and all parties to the agreement "take seriously the confidentiality of information concerning the privacy of survivors".

"This is an agreement between our two organisations with the good of survivors the priority."