Sins of a Father

The Dunedin victim of a paedophile priest, outside St Joseph’s Cathedral in Dunedin, says lives...
The Dunedin victim of a paedophile priest, outside St Joseph’s Cathedral in Dunedin, says lives have been destroyed by a man of the cloth. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

A paedophile priest who left a trail of victims in his wake was allowed to continue as a man of the cloth for nearly two decades after his offending was revealed to the Bishop of Dunedin.

Survivors say it shows why the Catholic Church should be part of a Royal Commission into historic abuse. Chris Morris investigates.

Forgiveness is a hard word to say, even now, for one of the innocent boys abused by a Catholic priest in Dunedin.

For, even after the priest was welcomed back into the Catholic fold, the boy - now a damaged 69-year-old man - still lives with the consequences each day.

Fr Magnus Murray, a pillar of the Catholic community, was invited in to the boy's home by his staunch Catholic parents in 1958, and quickly gained their trust.

Then he gained access to the boy's bedroom, entering at night and slipping between the sheets.

The abuse continued for 14 years, during visits to the boy's home and at the presbytery.

As the boy grew to be a man, he remained blind to the true nature of the priest.

Catholic priest Fr Magnus Murray pleaded guilty to 10 charges relating to offences against four...
Catholic priest Fr Magnus Murray pleaded guilty to 10 charges relating to offences against four Dunedin boys, dating back to between 1958 and 1972, in 2003.

"I never knew at that stage what he was doing to me was sexual abuse. I was a pretty green boy,'' the man - who cannot be named for legal reasons - said.

Fr Murray's crimes eventually caught up with him in 2003, when he admitted 10 charges relating to offending against four Dunedin boys between 1958 to 1972.

He was jailed for five years, but served less than three.

But now, more than a decade after his release, an ODT Insight investigation has found the convictions could be just the tip of an iceberg.

Victims say the priest could have targeted as many as 15 boys in Dunedin alone, and more elsewhere - a claim the church, and police, do not dispute.

Church documents also show how Fr Murray was moved from one unsuspecting community to the next, while his dark past was kept secret from those he served.

And, as the church refused to defrock the priest, now 91 and living in retirement in a Catholic aged care facility in Auckland, two of his Dunedin victims have spoken about the impact of his offending.

That included the once "green'' 10-year-old boy, who has spent 35 years on a benefit, coping only with part-time work while battling mental illness.

His marriage has collapsed and his demons have been passed to his son, who now battled his own psychiatric problems.

Somehow the man has retained his Catholic faith, but he is a long way from forgiveness.

"I'm still angry, because he ruined my life. I'm still very angry.''

Dunedin Bishop John Kavanagh sent Fr Magnus Murray to Sydney for counselling, but later endorsed...
Dunedin Bishop John Kavanagh sent Fr Magnus Murray to Sydney for counselling, but later endorsed his return to public ministry, after complaints about the priest’s behaviour emerged. Photo: supplied

HIS anger is directed not only at Fr Murray, but also at the church for protecting the priest after two angry fathers first confronted Dunedin Bishop John Kavanagh in 1972.

The priest known as "Max'' served at St Bernadette's Church, in St Clair, and later at St Mary's Church, in Mosgiel.

He also took singing lessons at St Paul's High School, now the home of Kavanagh College.

But as the allegations against Fr Murray emerged in 1972, police were nowhere to be seen.

Instead, Bishop Kavanagh sent Fr Murray away.

He was moved to Australia to be supervised by Archbishop James Carroll in Sydney, while receiving counselling.

But Fr Murray was soon welcomed back into the fold, ministering at weddings, funerals and baptisms in the Woollahra parish, in Sydney's east.

While there, the 55-year-old met a 17-year-old girl, Paula, who later told police she had been groomed for years before a sexual relationship developed between the pair when she was in her early 20s.

She alleged the relationship constituted rape, but Fr Murray denied any abuse of power and said the sex was consensual.

Police decided against a prosecution, despite indications their encounters "appear initially to be indecent assaults'', the police file showed.

But Paula said she was also angry Fr Murray's background had been concealed.

He was part of her extended family from 1972, and contact continued even after she married her husband, David.

Fr Murray baptised one of their three sons, and babysat all of them, until another former priest in Australia finally warned them years later of Fr Murray's background, she said.

The revelation left her ashamed, fearful for her boys' safety and disgusted by the church's secrecy.

"I'm no longer anything to do with Catholicism,'' Paula said.

But the pattern of behaviour continued.

In 1974, the 10-year-old Dunedin boy abused for more than a decade, now aged in his 20s, also travelled to Australia to see Fr Murray.

He later told police further offending occurred, and told the ODT he was still naive at the time.

Paula with Fr Murray while on a trip to New Zealand. Photo: supplied
Paula with Fr Murray while on a trip to New Zealand. Photo: supplied

Years later, in 1982, the man and his wife were visited in Dunedin by Fr Murray, who was by then back in New Zealand, his police statement said.

Fr Murray spent the night in a spare room, but made his move when the man's wife got up to go to the bathroom.

She returned to their bed to find her husband was not alone.

"When I went back to our bedroom and climbed back into bed, I put an arm across [my husband] and felt another hand there,'' she later told police.

She turned on the light and saw the priest, in bed with her husband, glaring at her.

"I then stormed out of bedroom and went in to the lounge. About half an hour later, I heard [Fr Murray] return to his own room.''

By then, Fr Murray was the parish priest in Waihi, in the North Island, having returned to New Zealand in 1976.

He had swapped letters with Bishop Kavanagh while in Australia, pining for home and a return to Dunedin.

In 1975, Bishop Kavanagh wrote back, acknowledging a "favourable report'' from Fr Murray's psychologist, but then delivered some bad news.

He would not be able to return to Dunedin, because "the local implications of past events, and these alone'' prevented it.

Instead, Bishop Kavanagh would grant Fr Murray's transfer to any other diocese of his choosing, he wrote.

"I am only too happy to confirm ... the only reason for your not being back in Dunedin are now local conditions and attitudes.

"I regret that your priestly zeal and talents cannot be at my service here,'' he wrote.

Later, after he moved to the Auckland Diocese in 1979, Bishop Kavanagh confirmed the transfer in a letter to Fr Murray which concluded: "With best wishes and appreciation of your work in the Diocese of Dunedin.''

The Bishop of Auckland, John Mackey, soon wrote back, assuring Bishop Kavanagh that Fr Murray had "settled in very well'' and was "becoming more acquainted with the Maoris in the North''.

Short stints followed in Te Atatu, Te Puke, Mt Maunganui, Tauranga and Kaikohe, before Fr Murray settled in for six years as the parish priest in Waihi, in the Hamilton Diocese, from 1980.

He moved again, to Ngaruawahia, in 1986, before retiring as a priest in 1990.

Suggestions of further offending have since emerged in Waihi, where the families of two boys were said to have received payouts, but police have no record of any formal complaint.

Ngaruawahia police were also said to be interested in Fr Murray's behaviour, prompting his abrupt retirement in 1990, but again, no formal complaint was received.

HAMILTON Bishop Edward Gaines, who was responsible for Fr Murray during his time in Waihi and Ngaruawahia, died in 1994.

The Auckland Diocese had no record of any complaints against Fr Murray, and the Hamilton Diocese said none had been received by 2003, when Fr Murray was sentenced.

The incumbent Bishop of Hamilton, Steve Lowe, said he could not discuss any complaints received since then "as a matter of policy''.

He confirmed Bishop Gaines had asked Fr Murray to retire in 1990, but not why, and reiterated the church's willingness to hear from victims of this "sad chapter''.

"If complainants wish to go to the media, that is over to them, however we do not have discussions in that forum.''

However, Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne, who was the Bishop of Hamilton from 1994 to 2014, said he had heard Ngaruawahia police had "wanted [Fr Murray] to admit to committing offences there as well''.

"The informal comment I got was that if he were to go back to Ngaruawahia, the police would be interested in arresting him.''

The current Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn, said he, too, was aware of complaints that never went as far as a prosecution.

"Certainly there were complaints made in the Hamilton Diocese at the time.

"Somehow or other he was removed from parish ministry and went into retirement. I suspect that that sort of complaint that he might have been hearing prompted that move.''

Waihi resident Mike McHardy had a clear memory of Fr Murray, having been married to his wife by the priest in 1981.

Fr Murray was "hard to get on with - but we never thought anything was amiss,'' he said.

He had heard talk of the offending since Fr Murray's departure, but would only say: "From what I can tell, that was the reason he left.''

Another Waihi resident, Des Mulhern, worked closely with Fr Murray on church projects in the 1980s, and said the community was "just shocked'' when he was convicted for his Dunedin offending.

Mr Mulhern had also heard rumours of offending by Fr Murray in Waihi, and was "bloody disgusted'' by the bishops' actions.

"To think he was put here and none of us knew about it, and that he had access to kids. As far as the bishops went, I think they were weak-kneed and just absconding their duties, to be quite honest.''

But, since his retirement and prosecution, more victims have emerged in Dunedin.

One of those involved in the 2003 prosecution said his own younger brother had since told him he was also abused by Fr Murray.

Another of the original victims said he was aware of four other boys in his class who were victims, but who did not want to come forward.

He had spoken to some directly, and the parents of others, and as many as 15 boys across the Taieri may have been targeted, he believed.

He had also spoken to one boy in Wellington who alleged he was abused when Fr Murray visited from Waihi.

Another Dunedin boy also came forward in 2004, following Fr Murray's prosecution, alleging he had also been abused by the priest in the early 1970s.

Police concluded a prosecution would not add to Fr Murray's sentence, but not before interviewing the priest in jail.

Fr Murray said he could not recall the offending, but "indicated there were a number of other victims that had not come forward'', police notes showed.

Monsignor John Harrison. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Monsignor John Harrison. Photo: Christine O'Connor

MONSIGNOR John Harrison, of the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin, accepted there could be other victims.

"If there's one or two, there must be a trail there somewhere.''

However, he defended the church's approach and that of Bishop Kavanagh, saying he acted as soon as complaints emerged.

Fr Murray was sent to Australia for treatment, and there was "no intention'' of allowing him back into public ministry in Sydney, which was "not knowledge we're aware of'', he said.

His offending was known to Bishop Mackay when Fr Murray was later accepted back into the Auckland Diocese, but professional advice at the time indicated he was safe to resume public ministry.

Victims' parents also had "every right to go to the police'', but chose not to, he said.

The approach was based on the processes and understanding of the day, but both had since changed, including new protocols for handling abuse allegations, he said.

"The response would be very different now.''

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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