We examined the redress processes of 14 faith-based institutions. Some had reasonably well-developed processes, others basic ones, and others still had no processes at all. We concentrated on three institutions in particular – the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and The Salvation Army – because of the number of claims of abuse made about these institutions. All three operated and provided comprehensive care and welfare services during the period under investigation.
The Anglican and Catholic Churches asked that this inquiry cover faith-based care. We began looking into them and The Salvation Army in early 2020, after private sessions with people who told us about their experience of abuse and neglect in the care of these churches. In November of that year, we heard from survivors in the faith-based redress hearing. In March 2021, we heard from church representatives about their redress processes. We have also drawn on evidence from witnesses who did not give oral evidence, survivors who had private sessions and documents received from churches and other entities in response to formal notices to produce material. Evidence from other hui and roundtables has also been considered.
The approaches taken by these faith-based institutions differ greatly and are summarised later in this report.
Survivors of abuse in faith-based institutions face specific barriers
For many survivors of abuse in faith-based institutions, there have been significant barriers to disclosure of abuse, and further serious issues with seeking accountability or redress. Historically, faith-based processes have not done enough to reduce or resolve these barriers. When abuse has been disclosed, faith-based institutions have often responded with disbelief and acted to protect their own reputations and interests.
“I have told so many priests about the abuse I have suffered in confession and have only received penance in return. Not one ever told me it was a crime or gave me advice, so I believed it was my sin to carry.”
People in religious ministry were regarded as close to God and not able to do wrong. They are given high status in their communities. As a result, some survivors of abuse within the church have feared they would not be believed by their whānau, their communities, or the institutions. Mr G told us he was reluctant to disclose his abuse by a Marist Brother:
“I thought that perhaps my parents would not believe me. I was not prone to telling lies, but at the time it was probably unthinkable that a Marist Brother would be capable of such behaviour.”
In many cases, the abusers of children maintained the victim’s silence through threats of physical, reputational or spiritual harm. A culture of secrecy in some churches has been a barrier to disclosure of abuse. It has undermined survivors’ understanding of what was done to them, and confidence that any disclosure would lead to accountability, let alone effective redress. We heard from several survivors that churches had responded to disclosures of abuse by moving the abuser to another school or institution, or moving them overseas, or encouraging them to retire or resign without facing any accountability for their actions. One survivor of abuse by a Catholic priest told us: “Everything to do with abuse within the Catholic Church is kept secret – everything is kept silent to protect the priests, and they [the Church] just move them on.”
Mary Marshall said she could not trust anyone in the Catholic Church. It would protect its members and reputation before looking after survivors’ needs. Ms CU told us of the Catholic Church supporting a Catholic priest who was facing sexual misconduct allegations. Another survivor, Gloria Ramsay, told us:
“The church should never be left to investigate its own complaints. It has a one-sided agenda. Clergy first. The ‘faithful’ members of the church who become victims of abuse, are at the bottom of their priority.”
A survivor of abuse in a Salvation Army boys’ home expressed similar concerns, telling us that when he first confronted the church in 2003 about his experiences “they pretty much brushed me off”. It was implied he might have schizophrenia. After this experience he was put off making any formal complaint until some years later when he had legal representation.
The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, and The Salvation Army acknowledged there have been, and remain, significant barriers for survivors to access redress. All three faith-based institutions committed to addressing these barriers.
Catholic Church leaders further acknowledged that the status and authority given to priests and religious leaders creates barriers to accessing redress and healing. This can be stronger for cultural groups. Cardinal Dew, Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, acknowledged, for example, that such issues may exist in Pacific communities within New Zealand and should be addressed. The Salvation Army acknowledged the decrease in claims could be a result of survivors not knowing about the Army’s claims process, and committed to increasing information and transparency. Anglican Bishop Ross Bay accepted the Church has largely not taken account of survivor experience and need, nor the aspect of trauma that has been woven through their life and how this impacts on a survivor’s ability to access redress.
Overview of faith-based institutions’ processes
Most faith-based institutions faced with reports of abuse that we evaluated have attempted to develop a claims process. We have found the processes in many cases to be inadequate, some because their processes prioritised church needs over those of survivors.
“We are seen mainly as threats to the church both financially and morally ... Threats to be dealt with rather than human beings.”
We heard from many survivors who had tried to tell a faith-based institution about abuse, and found the response to be slow, adversarial, poorly formulated, lacking in transparency and difficult to navigate. Survivors also said they were rarely treated with empathy and were often disbelieved, or their accounts minimised. Processes and staff at times lacked the resources or training to provide culturally appropriate redress to survivors. Outcomes were inconsistent. They differed according to which institution survivors were abused in, and who they made their claim to, as well as whether they had legal representation, or could afford legal representation. Monetary payments varied significantly, even within institutions (for example, between each Anglican diocese and between each Catholic diocese). Most settlements consisted of a financial payment, an apology and limited counselling. The clear verdict of survivors we heard from was that processes were unsatisfactory and often re-traumatising.
Next: Catholic Church