Man abused in state care alleges children from Wellington boys’ home were prostituted out to Catholic Church officials

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

May 11, 2021

By Sophie Cornish

A survivor of abuse in state care has alleged children were taken from a Wellington boys’ home and prostituted out to Catholic Church officials.

Keith Wiffin made the claims at a hearing for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care on Tuesday and alleged the Church is currently investigating the allegations.

Wiffin claimed boys were taken from Epuni boys’ home in Lower Hutt in a van by a housemaster, Alan Moncrief-Wright, to a Church site, where clergymen would walk around the van looking at the boys, selecting the ones they wanted to sexually abuse.

The Catholic Church has been approached for comment regarding the allegations.

A previous ward of the state himself, Wiffin, now aged 61, lived at Epuni from age 11 and suffered sexual abuse at the hands of at Moncrief-Wright. Wiffin has previously given evidence to the Commission on two occasions.

Moncrief-Wright was later convicted and jailed on a number of sexual violation charges against boys and is now dead.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wiffin told the Commission while he didn’t experience the practice involving the Church officials himself, he did take many excursions in the van, which was always driven by Moncrief-Wright.

The housemaster would take boys to pick up videos and lollies for the Saturday night entertainment and would sometimes take groups of boys to see movies.

“In relatively recent times what has come to my attention is that boys were driven in that van to a Catholic Church facility in the area where some boys were selected by Church officials to be sexually abused.”

Keith Wiffin experienced sexual abuse at Epuni boys’ home and has previously presented evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care. On Tuesday, he made fresh claims about what took place at the boys’ home.

Wiffin said he learnt of the claims after hearing an investigation was being conducted by the Church about the practice and from another man, who was also previously a ward of the state and lived at Epuni around the same time as Wiffin.

His traumatic memories involving the van started from the moment he was first taken to the home, when another boy smashed his a guitar over his head.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wiffin said it wasn’t uncommon for boys to be taken to the homes of staff members and away for weekends at a time.

He spoke of the other abuse he witnessed at the home and described some housemasters as some of the “most violent people he’s ever seen”.

He also described the king pin system, where boys were made to fight ‘last man standing-style’ until one boy remained, who would then become the king pin and issue out beatings to others who misbehaved.

On one occasion Wiffin said 30-odd boys were made to line up outside and witness a ‘tattoo removal’ where Moncrief-Wright used a hard brush in an attempt to scratch a homemade tattoo of a boy’s hand.

“It was an act of outright brutality … I can still hear the screams of that boy now,” Wiffin said.

In March, the Catholic Church formally apologised for the first time to survivors of abuse within the church.

Cardinal John Dew issued a formal apology in March on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders in New Zealand.
Cardinal John Dew issued a formal apology in March on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders in New Zealand.

Cardinal John Dew made the apology at a hearing for the Commission, on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders in New Zealand, stating the church could offer no excuses for the actions of the church that caused harm.

He said the abuse was perpetrated by people, such as priests, brothers and sisters and lay people that victims should have been able to trust and that the systems and culture of the church allowed abuse to occur.

He acknowledged the abuse caused pain, hurt and trauma which continues to have an impact on the lives of survivors.

Abuse in faith-based institutions such as churches or religious schools between 1950-1999 makes up a large part of the Inquiry.

Wiffin was the last witness to provide evidence in the residential homes hearings, which started on May 3 and finished on Tuesday.

The next hearings will begin on June 14, focusing on evidence about abuse of children and young people in the Child and Adolescent Unit at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital in the 1970s.