Eighteen years, two convicted perpetrators and one “insulting” offer
Ms K, a child of a devoutly Catholic family, was abused in 1977 by two Marist brothers, Brothers Michael Beaumont and Kevin Healy (known as Brother Gordon), in her home in Masterton in 1977. Both were teachers at her older brother’s school, and both were active members in the local church and community.
Ms K was nine when Brother Beaumont abused her. He was invited to the family home for dinner. Everyone gathered for prayers afterwards. Brother Beaumont beckoned Ms K, who was in her pyjamas, to sit next to him during the prayers. He put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close. Everyone closed their eyes reverently as prayers began. He then slid his hands down her pyjama pants and inserted his finger into her vagina where he kept it for the half hour it took everyone to recite the rosary. Ms K was petrified throughout this ordeal, and in her mind was begging her parents to open their eyes. But neither did. Afterwards she ran to her room, knowing something terribly wrong had happened. However, as she put it, Brother Beaumont had made her feel bad, so she had to be a bad person. She internalised the shame.
On another occasion, Brother Gordon came into her bedroom and insisted on a proper kiss before he would go. She relented and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He insisted on a “proper” kiss and gave her a full kiss on the mouth. Ms K said he then pushed his tongue into her mouth and she felt “very frightened and disturbed. It was revolting and I felt disgusted by it … It was not an instant kiss. It lasted for several seconds, and I remember lying stiff and just wondering what was happening. [He] left the room and I lay there silent, not really understanding what had just happened”.
The family later moved to Wellington and then to Perth, Western Australia, when she was 18. She still lives there.
Ms K has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, along with anxiety and depression. She said the abuse had “deeply affected my ability to form safe and normal relationships with men … and affected my ability to love and hold my children”.
The Marist Brothers in New Zealand appear to have been aware since 1997, and possibly earlier, of allegations of abuse against Brother Beaumont. The religious institute had also received allegations of abuse against Brother Gordon.
In 2003, Ms K contacted an Australian bishop about her childhood abuse. He passed her report of abuse to the Marist Brothers in New Zealand, and an investigation began. Meanwhile, the Australian arm of the religious institute paid for Ms K to receive counselling. Unbeknownst to Ms K, the counsellor reported back to the institute on the counselling sessions.
Two years passed before the Marist Brothers in New Zealand completed an investigation and concluded there was nothing to corroborate Ms K’s allegations and “no mechanism to determine the truth of the matter”. Both men had by then left the Marist Brothers and denied any wrongdoing, and so the religious institute said it could do nothing more.
Ms K engaged a lawyer to bring a civil claim. The Marist Brothers’ lawyer highlighted various legal obstacles in the way of her claim. Her lawyer agreed and suggested she complain to Police, which she did. In 2016, Police charged both men. Michael Beaumont (known as Brother Beaumont before he withdrew from the Marist Brothers in 2001) was found guilty of indecent assault in 2019, and Kevin Healy (known as Brother Gordon before he withdrew from the institute in 2000) in 2020.
Meanwhile, Ms K’s lawyer sent the Marist Brothers a claim for compensation in 2018. A lawyer for the religious institute repeated the same list of technical obstacles that its earlier lawyer had mentioned: the limitation defence, absence of vicarious liability and accident compensation legislation.
Following Michael Beaumont’s conviction, Ms K was offered an apology. Then in February 2020, she was offered an ex-gratia payment of $5,000. The letter said the religious institute did not have extensive wealth and was under financial constraints. Ms K considered the offer “a total insult” and rejected it.
In June 2020, following media coverage of her story, the Catholic Church’s body for overseeing reports of sexual abuse, the National Office for Professional Standards, announced that it would review the Marist Brothers’ investigation into her reports of sexual abuse. In November of that year, it said it had found significant failings in the investigation and concluded it was unreliable. It offered to launch a fresh investigation. This was surprising given that by this time both men had been convicted before the courts over the sexual abuse that she had disclosed.
Very recently, in September 2021, the Complaints Assessment Committee has agreed a process for the National Office of Professional Standards to adopt where convictions have been entered or when a respondent is found not guilty. These changes are yet to be formally incorporated into the church’s process called ‘Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path to Healing’.
Neither the Marist Brothers nor the National Office for Professional Standards has looked at whether the deficiencies in the investigation into Ms K’s reports of abuse had been repeated in other investigations into abuse complaints against Marist Brothers.
The Marist Brothers has subsequently paid for further counselling, but 18 years after reporting her abuse, Ms K has yet to receive a satisfactory offer of compensation.
Next: 2.3 The Crown redress response