Inquiry finds Catholic Church failed to act on Chch abuse

Dunedin man Darryl Smith, who was abused multiple times in state care, spoke during the inquiry...
Dunedin man Darryl Smith, who was abused multiple times in state care, spoke during the inquiry about abuse at Marylands Schools in Christchurch, which closed in the 1980s. Photo: Linda Robertson
WARNING: This article discusses sexual abuse that may be distressing.

Two days after his arrival at Marylands School, a young boy was taken to the church and forced to perform sexual acts on two religious brothers entrusted to care for him.

They pulled out a Bible and told the boy: "This is what God means by love".

A week later he was taken back to the church and raped on the marble altar.

This is one of countless cases of horrific historical abuse against young boys at the Christchurch school, which has been referred to by survivors during the Royal Commission of Inquiry as "hell on earth".

In an interim report released today, the inquiry found:

•Marylands School did not provide adequate education and safeguards for the children sent there

•The students were abused, neglected and deprived of their human rights

•The religious brothers who abused the children sought to actively evade accountability

•The Catholic Church, the Order and the State have not yet been found accountable for the magnitude of the tragedy that unfolded at Marylands School and Hebron Trust for failing to address the abuse

‘Abhorrent’ abuse should never have happened, says bishop

Archbishop Paul Martin SM said the scale of abuse set out in the report is abhorrent and should never have happened.

"Today’s case-study report highlights the horrific abuse and suffering that took place, and the failure of individuals to ensure safety and manage redress adequately," he said. "Confronting these realities is a significant and necessary step as we all continue to transform the way we manage redress and ensure the safety of everyone in a Church environment.

"The abuse described should never have happened. Nor should any abuse happen. I want to restate categorically that the bishops of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand have zero tolerance for abuse. No form of abuse, misconduct or inappropriate behaviour is acceptable in the Church community.

"The Church must continue to confront the difficult truths of the past, including the inexcusable abuse and suffering described in the case study report."

As part of its investigation into abuse in the care of the Catholic Church, the commission undertook a case study, including a public hearing, into abuse in the care of the Order of St John of God.

Members of the religious order cared for children and young people in Christchurch from the early 1950s onwards.

Marylands School and the Hebron Trust were established in Christchurch in 1955 and 1984 by the Order of St John of God.

Until the late 1980s successive governments placed disabled children and young people in the facilities to be trained. Marylands was designed to support and educate boys, as young as 6, who had disabilities or learning and behavioural problems.

Five brothers were sent from Australia to staff the school, most were untrained as teachers without specialist skills to educate disabled children.

Within the first year of the school’s operation, all five brothers had been accused of abusing the children.

The brothers routinely raped, sexually assaulted and beat the boys. The children were forced to perform sexual acts on the brothers, sometimes more than one at a time, as well as other boys.

The report titled ‘Stolen Lives, Marked Souls’ states that of the 37 brothers who ministered in the Christchurch community when the Order operated Marylands, 21 had allegations of abuse made against them.

Two of the brothers were convicted of committing indecencies against children. One remains in an Australian prison where he is likely to die while the other has already died. The others were deemed unfit to stand trial.

One Marylands survivor Darryl Smith has self-published several accounts of the abuse and neglect he suffered at the hands of the St John of God Brothers both here in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

Despite receiving payouts and apologies on both sides of the Tasman, Smith wanted justice in the form of a national inquiry and public apology from the New Zealand Government, stating it was "about time" when an inquiry would be made.

Abuse normalised to the children

One survivor was made to have sex with a younger boy. A brother then told the boy that he was "like him", an abuser, and he would get in trouble if he disclosed the abuse.

Sometimes the abuse would happen behind closed doors, other times in plain sight of everyone as a punishment.

Abuse was so normalised, the boys started sexually abusing each other.

Some brothers held negative racist attitudes toward Māori students, often calling them "n*****s".

A boy known to have been abused by one brother became "easier prey" for another brother.

One boy who had an intellectual disability was sent to Marylands when he was 10 years old. He spent three days in school and then was put in the kitchen, made to wash dishes for the next four years.

He recalled being separated from the other boys, unable to play with or eat meals with them.

He was sexually assaulted in the swimming pool by himself by one of the brothers.

On one occasion he was made to gas puppies to death with a brother. He was then instructed to take the dead puppies to the dump.

Another Marylands survivor spoke about being gathered into a room with a group of other boys and forced to perform oral sex on one of the brothers. When he tried to pull away he was hit with a baseball bat so hard his nose bled.

He described the brothers getting angry while they were abusing him as he often wouldn’t hold still but he soon "adapted" to the abuse.

He was taken to the hospital morgue on one occasion and forced to see a dead body as a scare tactic.

The boy told multiple teachers, social workers and even police when he was caught running away but no one believed him.

His teenage years were horrible, and it wasn’t until he went to prison that he learned to read and write and by the time he was 25 he was a patched member of a gang.

"It is sad to say that the only sense of belonging and support I ever felt was being part of a gang."

Another survivor recalled a boy being forced to strip naked outside in front of others and was sexually assaulted as punishment.

A ‘reign of terror’

After the Order left Marylands in 1984 the Bishop of Christchurch invited brothers to establish a youth ministry to support at-risk people, often "street kids", many of whom were Māori.

Despite the allegations of his abuse at Marylands, Brother Bernard McGrath, one of the Order’s most prolific serial rapists, was appointed the sole brother of the ministry, named Hebron Trust.

From there his "reign of terror" only escalated.

Boys as young as 8 went to Hebron, although it was mostly aimed at teenagers who were homeless, referred by social service agencies or by the criminal and youth justice system.

About three-quarters of survivors turned to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the abuse they endured. Many had contemplated or attempted suicide, others had died this way.

One survivor began getting in trouble with the police in his early teens but instead of being dealt with by the court, he was sent to Brother McGrath’s house to do community work such as gardening and chores.

He said McGrath routinely sexually assaulted him in his office. On one occasion when he raped the boy, the brother he "was in with the police" and no one would believe the boy if he spoke up about the abuse.

Some boys witnessed violence that they believe may have led to the deaths of other boys.

Another survivor described a brother rushing at one boy who had trouble understanding things. He said the brother pushed the boy over and he smacked his head on the concrete and began bleeding heavily. He was then taken to the medical room, never to be seen again.

"The way he was just hit I knew he wouldn’t make it. He was helpless."

One survivor spoke of a brother who pushed a boy into the pool and he sank to the bottom. Soon after a funeral was held for the boy.

Police said they have not found "any records of death of children while at Marylands" and do not "hold any information about the circumstances of these deaths".

 - Emily Moorhouse, Open Justice reporter 


Where to get help:
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7:
• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email
• For more info or to web chat visit

• Male Survivors Aotearoa offers a range of confidential support at centres across New Zealand - find your closest one here.
• Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata: 0800 94 22 94 (available 11am-8pm)
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault.