New Zealand investigation finds hundreds of reports of abuse by priests

Reports of abuse have been made against hundreds of clergy and other members of the Roman Catholic Church in New Zealand since the 1950s, according to figures released this week to a royal commission, which for the first times capture the pervasiveness of accusations of abuse in the church there.

Between 1950 and 2021, 1,680 allegations of abuse were reported against diocesan clergy and members of Catholic religious orders or associations, according to data of Te Ropu Tautoko, an umbrella group between the commission – the highest form of inquiry in New Zealand – and the Catholic Church.

The “sobering data” revealed the extent of abuse within the Catholic Church, Katherine Anderson, a lawyer assisting the commission, said in a press release. “The research is startling, and the heartbreaking reality is that helpless and vulnerable children and adults are sitting behind these facts and figures.”

Charges have been brought against 14% of all diocesan clergy in New Zealand, figures show, with many between the 1960s and 1980s, with the majority of cases involving children in educational or residential settings under the supervision of the church. More than half of all reported abuse involved sexual abuse or other physical, emotional or psychological abuse. Others concerned the failure to respond to complaints.

Still, a victims’ support network called the data “the tip of a huge iceberg”.

“We have no mechanism to verify the accuracy of these numbers. We cannot confirm what has been put in or omitted,” said Christopher Longhurst, a national leader of the Survivors Network of those who have been abused by children. priests. Most members of the group, he said, had not officially reported their abuse. By the group’s own estimates, for every complaint received, between six and ten people had a similar experience but did not never complained.

A Catholic Church official noted the abuse statistics were “horrendous and something we are deeply ashamed of”. The official, Cardinal John Dew, who is president of the New Zealand Conference of Catholic Bishops, added: “I strongly hope that facts like these will help us to face the sad reality. The Church will draw lessons from this and affirm its commitment to the work of safeguarding.

In 1,296 of the cases, accusers named a person when they reported abuse. In one case, 74 abuse allegations were made against the same person, the figures show. About 14% of all documented reports were linked to Marylands Special School and Hebron Trust, two Christchurch facilities for disabled or at-risk young people.

The inquiry comes as countries around the world investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Roman Catholic Church clergy. An independent commission in France estimated last year that over the past seven decades more than 200,000 minors have been sexually abused and, in many cases, silenced when speaking out about their experiences. In Australia, a similar commission in 2017 uncovered an epidemic of child sexual abuse and urged Roman Catholic leaders to abolish compulsory celibacy for priests.

The work of the New Zealand commission, which began in 2018, will continue with a public hearing, due to begin next week, which will hear stories from those who say they have suffered abuse in the custody of the Catholic Church. The commission is expected to deliver a full report on the abuses by next year.

Two Catholic Church brothers, Rodger Moloney and Bernard McGrath, have previously been convicted of abusing children at Marylands Special School and Hebron Trust.

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