Four Catholic priests or brothers have never faced justice for sexually abusing children, despite the church accepting their guilt.
The Roman Catholic Church in New Zealand has, for the first time, revealed the number of sexual abuse claims it has received, many of which are still being investigated.
They show the number of people coming forward is growing every year, decades after they were abused. But few, if any, are resulting in fresh complaints to police.
Victims have said that, even now, the church remains unwilling to dig into the darker parts of its past.
“If a victim came to me now, I’d say, ‘Stay away from the church’,” one victim said.
Bill Kilgallon, the church official handling sex abuse complaints, has confirmed that details of known abusers were not passed on to police unless victims lodged a complaint.
Neither had the church made any attempt to investigate whether the priests had abused other children who had yet to come forward.
“It’s for them to go to police, not for us. If they give us information and don’t want it to go to the police, we can’t ignore that,” he said.
“It does grate for me that people don’t face a criminal consequence for their actions, but we have what we have.”
In four years to December 2014, the church has received 58 fresh child-sex abuse complaints, and accepted 26 as “proven”. A further 24 are still under investigation.
The number has risen every year – 25 complaints lodged in 2014 – and Kilgallon expects the stream to continue.
The proven complaints implicated 21 priests, monks, nuns and teachers. Most are dead but of eight who are alive, four have never been charged. Police did not provide figures for how many child abuse complaints involving the Catholic Church it had received.
Kilgallon said all four had retired from the church and were not a risk. Their victims had chosen not to go to police because they could not endure a court case and no longer trusted police after a previous bad experience.
“Some are very fragile in their mental health and couldn’t cope.”
One acknowledged victim said he wanted nothing to do with the church or police after it took nearly a quarter of century to jail the priest who sexually abused him in the 1970s.
He complained to both the church and police straight away, but the priest, Alan John Woodcock, was not jailed until 2004, by which time he had abused at least 11 boys.
After the man complained again in 2002, the church gave him few thousands dollars on the condition he did not go public.
“They make a little payment to people to try and and shut them up, but it doesn’t improve your life.”
The church does not record payments victims but Kilgallon, who took up his role in 2013, said victims had previously been paid by the church on the condition of silence.
“It’s never justified. It’s not the practice now.”
The figures record only those complaints made after 2010, the year the church started keeping a central record. It does not account for the unknown number of complaints never acted on, the dozen priests and church personnel convicted in the past 25 years, or the many likely victims who never came forward.
Sexual abuse victims said it was time for an independent inquiry, preferably a royal commission of inquiry into all institutional sexual abuse, and the church should not be left to investigate itself.
“Whatever has ended up in the courts is a minuscule tip of the iceberg,” one woman said.
Kilgallon said the church had come a long way in the past decade and most victims who had come forward more recently had found the church “helpful and respectful”.
However, after hearing the revelations from Australia’s royal commission into the institutional response to child sexual abuse, Kilgallon said he too would support a royal commission here.
“Is there any reason to think New Zealand wouldn’t have similar issues? I don’t think so. I’m guessing an inquiry in New Zealand across the board at all the institutions looking after children would show up some dreadful experiences.”
Twelve year battle for sunlight
Her Hutt Valley house is relentlessly cheerful, the walls painted with rainbows, her shelves stuffed with home-crafted art.
She keeps the other part her life in a shoebox. Inside is a neat stack of documents detailing her 12-year struggle to see the priest who groomed and then raped her as a teenager brought to justice.
The former priest has since been charged, and is now before the courts, but along the woman said she lost her trust in the Catholic Church she believed would protect her as a child.
“My whole life has been destroyed,” she said. “It’s a complete betrayal.”
A trained nurse, the woman has been unable to work for 20 years and suffers from severe post-traumatic distress.
She first complained to the church 12 years ago. After an investigation, her claims were accepted and she was paid $25,000. However, she said the bishop refused to take the complaint any further, because the man had left the priesthood.
“I remember being really pissed off. I didn’t think the fact that he was no longer a priest had anything to do with whether or not they had jurisdiction over him.”
After the church investigation, she went to police in 2004, but she was told it was too long ago and they could not charge the man.
“At the time, police weren’t taking stuff like this very seriously.”
Law changes and a shake-up in police handling of sexual abuse complaints culminated in her case being reopened last year.
Despite what she had endure, the woman still considers herself a Catholic. But her faith in the church’s ability to deal with abuse is shattered. “I just refused to accept that nothing could be done.”
Her advice to victims who have yet to come forward is to go straight to police, who are now taking such complaints far more seriously than a year ago.
The Catholic child abuse scandal around the would
Sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church has been a smouldering scandal for decades, implicating thousands of priests, brothers and nuns.
In Ireland, a commission into child abuse reported in 2009 an “epidemic” level of abuse in boys’ schools, finding thousands of victims and more than 800 known abusers within the church over the past 35 years. It also implicated many senior priests in covering up the offending.
In the United States, the Catholic Church has spent an estimate $3 billion settling lawsuits from child abuse victims, forcing some dioceses into bankruptcy. A 2004 church-backed report found nearly 2000 priests had abused at least 4,500 children.
In Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2013, after a string of sex abuse cases and allegation from Victoria police of a church cover-up. The royal commission is still running but so far it has referred 666 sex abuse complaint to police, which include other institutions as well as the church. Overall it has received more than 13,000 complaints, about half related to faith-based institutions.
In New Zealand, there have been at least a dozen Catholic priests, brothers and other affiliated people that have been convicted of sexually abusing children. Some were retained within the church and moved around the country despite senior church figures being aware of their offending. There has been no nationwide inquiry into institutional abuse, and documents obtained by Fairfax Media show the Government identified a public inquiry as a risk, seeing it lose control of a process it had worked to tightly contain.