Kavanagh name change decision delayed

Kavanagh College. Photo: ODT files
Kavanagh College. Photo: ODT files
Former pupils are "pretty disappointed" by a delay to any decision on the renaming of Kavanagh College.

The issue was considered behind closed doors in the non-public part of the Kavanagh College board of trustees meeting on Tuesday night, and an announcement had been expected yesterday.

But, after months of revelations about historic abuse within the Dunedin diocese, much of it under then-Bishop John Kavanagh, a public meeting, and a petition by ex-pupils, yesterday's decision was no decision at all.

Board chairman Trevor Thomson issued a statement reiterating Bishop Michael Dooley, as proprietor of the Catholic college, was responsible for deciding on any name change.

The board had written to Bishop Dooley suggesting an independent inquiry examining Bishop Kavanagh's "knowledge and handling of abuse", Mr Thomson said.

But, in a letter responding to the board, Bishop Dooley said he would "seriously" consider a name change, without giving a timeline.

He acknowledged the "allegations" of historic abuse and "concerns about serious deficiencies in the church structure" under then-Bishop Kavanagh, but said he was "hoping and praying" churches were included in the upcoming Royal Commission into historic abuse.

That would allow an independent statutory body to investigate Bishop Kavanagh's actions and the reasons for a name change, he said.

But, in the meantime, he was "committed to listening" to victims and survivors and examining the church's "institutional failings".

"Within the context of this need ... I commit to seriously considering whether Bishop Kavanagh's handling of historical sexual abuse during his term as bishop warrants a name change for the school," the letter said.

Bishop Dooley told the Otago Daily Times yesterday there was "not much point" deciding on a name change before the scope of the Royal Commission was confirmed.

That was expected in about "four or five weeks", he said.

"When I'm saying I'm serious - I am seriously considering it [a name change].

"But I can't put in plans until I know what the Royal Commission [outcome is] - how it affects us."

If the church was included in the Royal Commission, that did not mean a decision on a name change would have to wait years, until the full inquiry was over, he said.

But if the church was omitted, as draft terms of reference suggested, an independent inquiry covering Bishop Kavanagh's actions could follow, Bishop Dooley said.

Christian Unkovich-McNab (25), who helped organise the public meeting and petition calling for the name change, said the lack of prompt action was "a big let-down".

"I feel like they are possibly trying to stall it."

Dr Murray Heasley, a spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions and their Supporters, said Bishop Kavanagh bore "command responsibility" for what happened under his watch.

"There are not `allegations' of sexual assault ... the assaults were real and horrendous.

"It is not merely about the `handling' of the abuse. It is the association of the Kavanagh name with harm and the need to remove it as acceptance of this ongoing harm."

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