Institutions have been reluctant to provide records, which has led to delays
In general, survivors found it more difficult to gain access to files held by faith-based institutions than those held by State agencies. Many described a general lack of accountability and openness on the part of faith-based institutions about what records they had kept and would release. They said these institutions kept very minimal records and destroyed those they did hold for various reasons. They were also reluctant to hand over records. One survivor, who wanted to be known only as John, said the Marist Brothers refused to give him a copy of the file opened by the investigator that was investigating his report of abuse, saying it was “the property of the Marist Brothers”.
Although The Salvation Army can now provide survivor records in a short period of time, some survivors that went through their process in the early 2000s struggled to obtain their records. One survivor, Janet Lowe, initially requested her file from The Salvation Army in 1983 but was refused, receiving records only some time after making a formal claim in 2001.
Frances Tagaloa believes that information was withheld from her by the Marist Brothers when she first requested her records. She also told us that Brother Peter Horide used the Privacy Act as a reason to withhold certain documents when he could have provided the document and redacted confidential information. Frances also told us that there were delays getting her records. She requested the records in March 2020, and was given them in September and October 2020. In July 2020, the Marist Brothers had decided to “confine [their] answer” after receiving legal advice about Frances’ request.
Records frequently missing and even deliberately destroyed
Survivors told us faith-based institutions had lost or destroyed their records. At times, this has been used to deliberately cover up abuse. There have also been instances where records have been destroyed by fire or earthquakes or damaged by water, the cause of which is often unknown.
The Anglican Church has made it difficult for survivors to obtain records relating to their time in care. Survivor records have often been lost, destroyed or not recorded properly in the first place. Tamzin Ford told us that the church had informed her that relevant documents relating to her complaint and how the church dealt with her abuser do not exist. She said: “the church knew exactly what was going on and … they covered it all up.”
There is one reported instance where it was noted that records of a meeting in 1974 between The Salvation Army leadership and John Gainsford, later a convicted child abuser, were missing. On a second occasion, an independent investigator reported that a complainant had said that certain records may have been removed, but it was never confirmed.
Tina Cleary gave evidence for her father Patrick Cleary, abused at St Patrick’s Silverstream, which was a Catholic school run by the Society of Mary. Patrick found it difficult to tell anyone about the abuse, due to “shame for everything, even for being me”. He wrote: “I complained twice to the Society of Mary, the outfit which controls the priests”. However, the Society of Mary says its records show he complained once only. Patrick wanted photos of his abusers to be taken down.
Representatives of these institutions acknowledged there had been shortcomings in the collecting, handling and disposal of records. Colonel Gerald Walker from The Salvation Army said he accepted there had been “gaps” in its documentation, but didn’t know how some of these had happened, noting that current retention policies did not exist earlier.
We heard about the deliberate burning of records by an Anglican bishop, Allan Pyatt. Bishop Peter Carrell of the Anglican Church said he could not say what records Allan Pyatt, had burned during his time and whether this was common practice:
“I have no idea personally whether Bishop Pyatt’s predecessors had a similar kind of bonfire approach … I’ve looked at the lot of the files going back to the 1940s and onwards, so it’s not a case that every record has been removed, but it is quite possible that a bishop … may have looked at, for example, some correspondence and said: ‘Well, you know, I should get rid of that.’ … Of course, I have no idea what Bishop Pyatt actually burned.”
Faith-based institutions, like many public and private institutions, have had policies on the destruction of records after a certain amount of time, which means records will not exist forever. These policies can be another barrier for survivors accessing their records.
Minimal records kept
From what survivors and representatives of faith-based institutions have told us, in some cases there appears to have been minimal record-keeping. Murray Houston said that The Salvation Army had located a record for a survivor in almost every case. In some cases, these files were substantive, but that “regretfully in some situations, particularly a lot of the earlier records are possibly just a single entry in and out, and a date of birth maybe”. Bishop Bay of the Anglican Church, said “very little” was recorded and “any records that were kept, especially from longer ago, were very scant”.
Senior members of the Catholic Church have also conceded that historically record keeping has been poor. A preliminary report undertaken by the church said that “prior to 1990 almost no records of abuse are held”.
Ms B told the faith-based redress hearing she was outraged to discover that The Salvation Army could produce just “one sheet [of paper]” to account for the early years of her life, and that a government agency “would have been strung up” for presenting such a paltry record of an individual’s time in its care.
Survivor Neil Harding said the fact perpetrators of abuse were often moved along, rather than held to account for their actions, meant institutions’ records would inevitably be “inadequate and inaccurate” because of the need to hide the original deception – the unjustifiable transfer of perpetrators. He said the school also failed to record the names and experiences of other abused boys.
Poor record keeping hid what was happening to children in care. Gloria White said The Salvation Army and the State had both failed her by giving her inadequate support when she came forward with her experiences of abuse while she was in care, and that if the girls’ home and school she attended “had made true records of my behaviour and my movements, they would have seen [the] pattern that was happening”.
Some faith-based institutions have tried to improve their record-keeping practices. The Salvation Army, for example, adopted revised practices in the 2000s, including digitisation, and the Anglican and Catholic churches have employed archivists and historians to help upgrade their filing systems.
Poor record keeping affected claims for redress
Numerous survivors told us that when they obtained their records, they discovered their claims of abuse were either nowhere to be found or were recorded incompletely or inaccurately. As a result, they could not put together sufficient supporting information to make a strong claim for redress.
Janet Lowe was told by The Salvation Army’s lawyers in 2001 that there was nothing in The Salvation Army’s records to indicate problems with her care, and that her claim was unlikely to succeed. However, she told us about concerns raised by her father with The Salvation Army about her care that had been recorded in her Department of Social Welfare file, but not in her Salvation Army file. The Salvation Army’s lawyers also said in a letter to Janet that if she gave up her claim the Army would meet its own costs (with the implication that if she continued her claim the Army would seek costs from her). Murray Houston later acknowledged at the faith-based redress hearing that this letter was unacceptable.
One survivor made a claim with the Anglican Trust for Women and Children. She told us that “the lack of records about me made [my claim] very hard. I don’t understand how I could stay at Brett Home and with Mr and Mrs S for so long, without any records being kept.”
While institutions have maintained that record-keeping has improved, we heard that redress reports of abuse were recorded incorrectly. Frances Tagaloa said it was “despicable” that “just four pieces of paper” had been necessary to write up an allegation as serious as sexual abuse, and that the matter was deemed “not important enough to document [precisely]”. Another survivor said he discovered during its redress process that initially the relevant diocese had not treated this allegation as a report of abuse, but had simply made a note in the diocesan records. “I was very upset to hear this.”
We also heard that institutions have failed to accurately record data on the ethnicities and disability of survivors who access their redress processes. Both Murray Houston, from The Salvation Army, and Brother Peter Horide, conceded that because such data had not been formally captured, in order to assess ethnicities for the purposes of preparing for and assisting the inquiry, they estimated claimant ethnicities, and have recorded these opinions. This approach is unreliable and problematic. Appropriate recordkeeping practices are critical for identifying, preventing and responding to abuse.
Some survivors said churches had shared their records with psychologists and others without their consent and in circumstance where the record sharing was not required by law. Records can be incredibly meaningful to survivors and can include personal details about their life and abuse. It is distressing for survivors to not know who has access to their information.
Ann-Marie Shelley, who experienced abuse in the Catholic Church, said her records revealed that her complaint “had been shared with several psychologists contracted to the Wellington Archdiocese to give advice to the Cardinal on how he should handle me”. Before this, Ann-Marie had specifically asked that her information was not to be shared with others without her express permission.
Another survivor, John, said the Marist Brothers “controlled who’d seen my file, [and] what information they provided to that person sitting around the table with them”. He also said: “I don’t like the fact that I don’t know who else is looking at my case, that I don’t know them, that I don’t know if they’ve been shown everything, so they can understand my pain.”
These did not appear to be isolated incidents, as Ms K states:
“What I did not realise at the time was that my counsellor was reporting back to [the Catholic Church’s Professional Standards group in Australia] about my progress and was acting as a conduit for the Marist Brothers in New Zealand. The counsellor was passing back progress reports about my mental state while the Order was making use of the counsellor to provide information to me about the progression of the investigation. In my opinion, professional boundaries were crossed.”