Children’s cries for help at ‘hell on earth’ ignored for decades by Catholic Church and State – Royal Commission
A damning new report exposes a special school and related community centre set up to care for tamariki and rangatahi in Ōtautahi Christchurch as ‘hell on earth’.
The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry’s report, Stolen Lives, Marked Souls, found cries for help from survivors of Marylands School and Hebron Trust were ignored for decades.
Both facilities were run by the Order of the Brothers of St John of God.
The report found the Catholic Church, the Order and State have never been held accountable for their role or for failing to address the harm.
The report, made public today, is part of the Royal Commission’s wider investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church institutions.
Inquiry Chair Coral Shaw said, “Marylands School was a place of depravity, sexual, physical and spiritual violence. At Hebron Trust, rangatahi were sexually and physically abused by one of the most prolific serial abusers of the Order.
“We are aware of no other circumstances or institution where the sexual abuse has been so extreme or has involved such a high proportion of perpetrators over the same extended period of time as that at Marylands School.”
Parents sent their children to be cared for by the brothers, often on advice of the State, believing it was the best place for them. Instead, survivors experienced extreme abuse and neglect with lifelong consequences.
“Devastatingly, many grew up to suffer painful, life-long physical injuries and illnesses caused by the abuse and neglect,” said Coral Shaw. “Many survivors contemplated or even attempted suicide. Tragically, some have lost their lives this way.”
“When children reported abuse, they were not believed. Not believed by social workers, police, the brothers or the Catholic Church.”
Of the 537 boys who attended Marylands School, more than one in five (118) reported abuse while in the school's care. However, the true number is likely much higher as there are significant barriers to disclosure and reporting of abuse by disabled survivors.
Of the 37 brothers from the Order who ministered in the Christchurch community and Marylands School, 21 had allegations of some form of abuse made against them. Brother Bernard McGrath alone has been convicted of more than 100 offences both here and in Australia. He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
Although the State registered and financially supported Marylands as a special school it failed to protect the boys and put a stop to the atrocities due to a lack of oversight and monitoring of the brothers operating the school. Evidence shows the Crown may well have breached te Tiriti and human rights obligations.
“Survivors have suffered for years and been robbed of their potential because those who were meant to care for them shamefully enabled the abuse, ignored it or covered it up.”
“Without accountability, there can be no confidence that such events will not be able to occur again,” said Coral Shaw
The report, Stolen Lives, Marked Souls has been tabled in Parliament and published on our website. https://www.abuseincare.org.nz/our-progress/reports/stolen-lives-marked-souls
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
This report follows the earlier release of our inquiry into the Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit - Beautiful Children.
About the Inquiry
The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry is investigating the abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults within State and faith-based institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand between 1950-1999. We can also learn from the experiences of survivors who have been in care after 1999. The Royal Commission will deliver its final report in March 2024.
About Marylands School, Order of St John of God and Hebron Trust
- Marylands School was a residential institution in Christchurch, primarily for boys with learning disabilities, who came from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.
- It was operated by the Hospitaller Order of St John of God (St John of God brothers) between 1955 – 1984.
- Many of the boys at Marylands School were placed there by their families, and about 20 percent were under care and protection orders and wards of the State. Boys did not need to be Catholic to attend.
- Hebron Trust was a residential programme in Christchurch, for youth in need of safety, shelter and support, including ‘street kids’. It began operating in 1986 and was led by a St John of God brother.
- After media publicity in 2002, further allegations of sexual abuse were made against St John of God brothers based at Marylands School and Hebron Trust. Police investigations, extradition orders and High Court trials followed.