A Catholic priest who admitted abusing at least five children in New Zealand and earlier worked in Canberra was never reported to police, the church says.
And one of the women he abused says she believes there’s almost certainly Australian victims.
Five historical complaints were made in 1993 against Dominican Order member Father Michael Shirres, a priest and theologian who died in 1997, Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn said on Wednesday.
However while Shirres confessed to offending over several decades, police were never alerted because the victims wanted privacy, the bishop said.
He was instead put through an independent sex offender program and removed from priestly work. He later apologised.
“At that time the policy with historic cases, as distinct from current cases, was to prioritise the wishes of the complainant,” Bishop Dunn said.
“We respected their wishes and realised that if we did not, people would not be prepared to come forward.”
He said the church’s practice was to encourage complainants to go to the police and the Dominican Order worked to support those who had come forward.
A highly regarded figure in communities in New Zealand’s Far North from the 1970s, Shirres lectured Maori theology in Auckland and authored several books.
In the 1960s, he was chaplain at the Australian National University in Canberra for several years and was there at least until 1964.
Whangarei resident Annie Hill told AAP within her parish there was talk Shirres has was already an abuser when he returned to Auckland in 1966.
She was abused from age five and has been left with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He didn’t suddenly get off the plane back in his home country and become a child abuser,” she said.
Ms Hill, who took compensation from the church in the 1990s, said she was now compelled to speak out because she felt the Dominican Order in recent years had venerated Shirres despite repeated warnings.
“My father raised this with them in 1966. I raised it with them again in the early ’90s and then in 2016 I went back to them and said again: ‘I believe there are other victims. What are you doing to make inquiries?'” she said.
“At the level of action, empathy and understanding, nothing has happened.”
Dominican Friars Provincial Anthony Walsh – the order’s regional head – is overseas but a spokesman for his office in Victoria said the order would check archives to see if any accusations had been made against Shirres in Australia, although it was not immediately aware of any.