Survivor upset he was not told of abuser’s death

Michael Chamberlain says the Catholic Church waited nearly four months to tell him his abuser was...
Michael Chamberlain says the Catholic Church waited nearly four months to tell him his abuser was dead. Photo: ODT FILES
A survivor of historical sexual abuse says he is "flabbergasted" the Catholic Church waited nearly four months to tell him his abuser was dead.

The bishop of Dunedin’s Catholic diocese has apologised for failing to tell victims former priest Magnus "Max" Murray died in January this year.

But Michael Chamberlain — an advocate for survivors and a victim himself — is accusing the church of sweeping Mr Murray’s death under the rug.

Mr Murray was jailed for five years in 2003 — but served less than three — after admitting to 10 charges of sexual offending against four Dunedin boys between 1958 and 1972.

At the time, Mr Murray taught at St Paul’s High School, before it became Kavanagh College in 1989 and renamed Trinity Catholic College in 2017.

Dunedin man Rob Donaldson, who was abused by Mr Murray, said he was "quite flabbergasted" to find out his abuser was dead.

The 75-year-old said he learned about Mr Murray’s death during a discussion with Bishop Steve Lowe, of Auckland, who was in Dunedin for a church service at St Joseph’s Cathedral earlier this month.

Mr Donaldson said this was "not an appropriate way at all" to learn about the death.

"I was very annoyed," he said.

On his way home that same day, he received a call from the Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, Michael Dooley, who apologised for not telling him sooner, Mr Donaldson said.

But he had seen Bishop Dooley earlier in the year and he had "never mentioned anything" about Mr Murray’s death, Mr Donaldson said.

Male Survivors Otago manager, and a fellow survivor of Mr Murray’s abuse, Michael Chamberlain said the church was trying to sweep Mr Murray’s death under the rug "as they do and as they have in the past".

"[Bishop Dooley] was just ringing up to cover his ass, no other way for me to put it," he said.

Mr Chamberlain said he was aware of two other survivors who had approached Bishop Dooley about Mr Murray’s abuse.

"Those people hadn’t been contacted. Nobody had."

Mr Chamberlain said Mr Murray had "a big catchment" and there were still survivors of his abuse coming forward.

Survivors could be left "reeling" if they believed things like this were being withheld and the handling of Mr Murray’s death may have lessened their chances of coming forward, he said.

In 2018, an investigation by the Otago Daily Times found Mr Murray’s offending in Dunedin could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Once the allegations first arose in 1972, Mr Murray was sent to Sydney for counselling and treatment but returned to New Zealand four years later.

He resumed his pastoral duties as a parish priest in Waihi and other parts of the North Island, where more victims have since emerged, and was asked to retire in 1990.

After his conviction in 2003, Mr Murray retained his status as a priest while in retirement until he was defrocked — meaning the loss of the title "Father" — by the Vatican in 2019.

Bishop Dooley said he was aware the news of an abuser’s death could be traumatising to survivors. After hearing of Mr Donaldson’s conversation with Bishop Lowe, Bishop Dooley said he rang Mr Donaldson to check up on how he was doing out of concern.

He acknowledged the handling of Mr Murray’s death may have lessened survivors’ chances of coming forward.

"I hope it doesn’t but it could have ... If it has then I’m very sorry about that."

Bishop Dooley said the church had no formal policy for contacting survivors of historical abuse, but it was something it had now decided needed to be created.

He had informed three survivors of Mr Murray’s death, after speaking to Mr Donaldson, he said.

Bishop Dooley said he was "committed not to sweeping things under the carpet", but the fact Mr Murray was no longer a priest and "effectively a private citizen" after being defrocked meant he had no official position in the church when he died — which was probably why his death was not announced.

He estimated he was told about the death a month to a couple of months ago, and "may have" been aware of the death when he saw Mr Donaldson earlier in the year, Bishop Dooley said.