Many survivors told us redress was not just about themselves. Holding perpetrators and organisations to account was a crucial part of moving on with their lives. Yet they said they saw little of that accountability. Rather, they saw dismissive attitudes and a refusal to investigate and take responsibility for acts of abuse, let alone seek to prevent any repeat of this abuse.
One survivor said financial compensation was of secondary importance to accountability, and that for some, justice mattered most. Chassy Duncan said he had done so much to heal and change himself and now realised the final piece of the jigsaw would be for the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Education to “finally take responsibility for what they did to me”.
Survivors said agencies and institutions dodged responsibility and instead disbelieved them, pressured them to justify their claims, minimised the harm done to them, tried to shift the blame elsewhere, and sometimes tried to protect – or even support – the abusers. Mary Marshall said the Catholic Church rejected her claim of sexual abuse by a nun on grounds no one else had ever reported abuse by the nun, and that other nuns held her in high regard. She felt the church was, in effect, saying she was lying, and she felt suicidal afterwards. Kerry Johnson said the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Development pointed the blame at one another rather than owning up to the abuse he suffered at Campbell Park school in Otago. He wished the agencies would “stop arguing about who’s to blame” so he could put everything in the past.
Some survivors found that even clear evidence of abuse was not enough to make agencies take responsibility. Phillipa Wilson noted that her records contained evidence of negligence by the Ministry of Social Development, but the ministry only accepted several of her allegations: “I’m still not satisfied with what [the ministry] have accepted and what they haven’t.” She said there was “no denying it” and the ministry needed to take responsibility. Many survivors said the lack of accountability felt like a double standard. One survivor said there needed to be a “true and honest” acknowledgement of mistakes. He said he had been held accountable for his mistakes and gone to jail, so “if I’m being held accountable, the State should be, too”.
Survivors Marc and John said churches were more interested in protecting their reputations than confronting the harm done to children and young people. Survivor Ms K said she felt the Catholic Church hid behind the law to protect itself. An anonymous witness made the same observation, saying St Margaret’s College, an Anglican boarding school, “always [went] into damage control for themselves, at any cost”, while William Wilson said the Methodist Church’s Wesley College “tried to hide anything that would make the school look bad”.
Survivors told us that, at times, faith-based institutions used “deny and defend” strategies, the exceptions being when the media or other organisations became involved. Jacinda Thompson said the Anglican Church “behave[d] differently in public than behind closed doors, and survivors are treated better when the church’s actions can be seen by all”. She said that when the media reported the church’s arguments in defence of her claim, it “had a change of heart … and had a renewed interest in settling”.
Survivors said some faith-based institutions had demanded settlement agreements where the survivor was not allowed to talk about the abuse or the circumstances leading up to the settlement. One anonymous survivor who engaged in a redress process with a Catholic Church authority told the inquiry that he found this particularly harsh because he said that he was told any breach of confidentiality would mean he would have to repay everything plus additional costs. While this was at first common practice, church entities removed confidentiality clauses from their agreements and took the position that they were not to be enforced.
Perpetrators had sometimes died by the time survivors disclosed abuse and made a claim, but survivors said they still wanted acknowledgement and accountability from the institution concerned.
The lack of acknowledgement of harm and meaningful, proportionate consequences for abusers was particularly frustrating for Māori survivors because this was a vital part of utua kia ea, or restoration and balance, as well as being consistent with tikanga Māori practices. One survivor said his settlement offer confirmed individual managers and staff would not be taking personal ownership for the repeated abuse he had endured.
Some survivors we heard from said faith-based institutions were unwilling to investigate and hold their own to account. Instead, there is some evidence that these institutions at times supported alleged abusers (including by funding legal costs), encouraged them to quietly resign, moved them to other locations where the offending could resume, or supported them to live in relative comfort long after their offending had been revealed. Meanwhile, at times these same institutions did not always support survivors during the claims process.
One witness, Ms CU, said the Catholic Church funded a QC as a lawyer for a priest accused – and subsequently convicted – of indecent communication with her niece.
In another example Magnus Murray, a priest convicted in 2003 on 10 charges of sexual offending against Dunedin schoolboys, was not dismissed as a priest until 16 years later, and then only after a public backlash. At the time he was dismissed, Magnus Murray was living in a rest home and continuing to use the title Father. One of his victims, Robert Donaldson, said it was a disgrace and an insult that it took so long for the Catholic Church to dismiss Murray.
Louise Deans said she was stonewalled by the Anglican Church after alleging sexual harassment by the priest Robert McCullough in the late 1980s. The church funded legal support and counselling for McCullough and dismissed her claim without proper investigation. McCullough was eventually removed from his positions and his resignation was accepted in relation to his teaching roles, but he remained a priest.
Another survivor, Ms C, described the Anglican Church as a misogynistic “old boys’ club” that protected perpetrators within its ranks. Anne Hill said the Catholic Church removed the priest Michael Shirres from his positions after she disclosed his abuse of her, but he remained a member of the Dominican Order. Ms Hill asked the church to seek out other potential victims of Michael Shirres, and publicly repeated this request in July 2018 when she told the New Zealand Herald and The Northern Advocate about her abuse. In August 2018, in response to contact from WelCom, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Wellington’s and the Diocese of Palmerston and following on from the interest in media reports about Shirres, the Dominican Provincial published an article encouraging any other victims of Michael Shirres to come forward. Despite this, Ms Hill told us she felt that the church had minimised his offending. Years after his death, a church publication published an article praising his contribution to Māori spirituality. Ms Hill said there was no possibility of change unless the church put the needs of survivors ahead of the protection of priests.
Keith Wiffin said the Crown defended Alan Moncreif-Wright throughout court action and the out-of-court redress process even after he had been convicted of sexual offending against children. He said the Crown had just one agenda, to limit at every step any legal liability, even if that meant denying meaningful compensation to victims. He said he found the Crown’s position “totally unjustifiable [and] it gobsmacks me to this day”. James Packer said a teacher at Kelston School for the Deaf in Auckland subjected him and other boys to repeated physical assaults, and on one occasion broke a boy’s arm. The teacher was sent on a “refresher course” but continued to teach – and to traumatise – his students.
Survivors took deep offence at the way faith-based institutions continued to defend and praise abusers long after the institution was aware of abuse – including after they had died. One survivor, Mr F, said he read an obituary describing his abuser, a Catholic priest, as “a man of profound integrity and a faithful priest”. In 2003, Father Tom Laffey admitted to sexually abusing a child in the mid-1960s. The Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions said that at Father Laffey’s funeral in 2019, then Provincial David Kennerley told those gathered that they should “imitate the faithful spirit” Father Laffey had shown. The Network said this action was evidence that the culture of abuse in the Catholic Church had not changed.
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