The stain of sexual abuse

Fr Magnus Murray. Photo: supplied
Fr Magnus Murray. Photo: supplied
Survivors of sexual abuse may encounter a range of short and long-term effects such as guilt, shame and blame.

They may feel guilty about not being able to stop the abuse, or blame themselves for letting it happen. It is important for those survivors to know it is the person who betrayed them and hurt them who is to blame and it is they who should be held accountable.

The Otago Daily Times Insight series ''Marked by the Cross'' has uncovered disturbing details about the Roman Catholic Church's handling of Dunedin priest Fr Magnus Murray.

Fr Murray was allowed to continue as a priest after his offending in Dunedin was revealed to Bishop John Kavanagh in 1972.

Fr Murray, who was convicted in 2003 of offences against four Dunedin boys between 1958 and 1972, was sent to Sydney for counselling when two Dunedin parents complained in 1972.

He quickly returned to public ministry while in Australia and was welcomed back into the fold as a parish priest in North Island centres from 1977 until retiring in 1990.

Fr Murray is just one of many priests worldwide accused or convicted of offences against mainly teenage boys. Pope Francis in June accepted the resignations of the bishop at the centre of Chile's clerical sex abuse scandal and two other priests, launching a purge of the Catholic Church in a country where it had been damaged by an avalanche of abuse and cover-up accusations.

Last month, a Catholic archbishop in Australia was given a maximum sentence of 12 months in detention for concealing child sexual abuse in the 1970s. Philip Wilson, now archbishop of Adelaide, is the most senior Catholic globally to be convicted of the crime.

Also in Australia, Cardinal George Pell was charged with historical sexual assault offences by Australian police in the state of Victoria. Cardinal Pell's legal representatives in Australia were served with the charges which relate to multiple complainants and offences alleged to have occurred in Victoria. Cardinal Pell, who has served as the Vatican's treasurer, has strenuously denied allegations.

The Catholic Church is not the only institution to attempt to cover up sexual abuse offences.

Research shows Catholic clergy are not more likely to abuse children than other clergy or men in general. Almost all of clergy sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church coming to light now were from offences carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. Incidents in the past 25 years are quite rare compared to incidents during the earlier decades.

In New Zealand, former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand is the chairman of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care. The commission can come to its own independent conclusions and recommendations.

The legacy of people taken into state care who suffered neglect and abuse is a stain on our country's history.

A majority of people who have been in state care are Maori and also Pasifika. While some people received a better education and start in life, regrettably many did not and suffered abuse and neglect.

Sir Anand says there is an obligation to make a better future for all New Zealanders, working together to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

For many survivors, it is too late. It is possible their first sexual experience came as a result of sexual abuse. As a result, intimacy as an adult may be hard to attain. Survivors may struggle to set boundaries to help them feel safe in relationships.

Many adult survivors may live with painful memories all of their life and yet, institutions like the Catholic Church and state organisations, continue to cover up for the perpetrators.

The inquiry led by Sir Anand is an important step for New Zealand. Although it will likely awake the painful past for those affected, the time has arrived to deal with the consequences of sexual abuse.


One of the consequences of sexual abuse is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which is like the nervous system receiving 10,000 e-mails and taking decades to reply to all the neurological distress messages.

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