Priest accused of abusing a child had links to two Wellington schools

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

August 3, 2021

By Tom Hunt

A priest accused of sexually abusing a child had historic links to two Wellington Anglican schools, with parents at one – Chilton Saint James in Lower Hutt – informed of the links on Monday.

During her testimony to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care two weeks ago, Joanna Oldham accused Reverend Ray Oppenheim of sexually abusing her when she was a young girl. She said that, when she was nine years old, Oppenheim molested her and took indecent photos of her three times before an uncle found out and put a stop to it.

Anglican bishop Justin Duckworth on Monday said those allegations were the first he had heard about Oppenheim, who died in 2001.

Oppenheim worked at St Mark’s Parish in Wellington from 1987 to 1990, which has since closed. That school had close links to St Mark’s School beside the Basin Reserve.

He then worked at St James’ Anglican Church in Lower Hutt, which had ties to Chilton St James School.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of experiences such as this and as a member of our school community, we want to assure you that all of us work hard to ensure our students feel safe and have a strong sense of belonging,” the school wrote in an email to parents on Monday.

“We are a family, and our heartfelt desire is that all those connected with our school enjoy that sense of community and safety.”

St Mark’s School could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bishop Justin Duckworth said Oppenheim had historic links to two Wellington schools.  Monique Ford / Fairfax NZ / Stuff
Bishop Justin Duckworth said Oppenheim had historic links to two Wellington schools. Monique Ford / Fairfax NZ / Stuff

Duckworth said the church supported the work of the Royal Commissioner and encouraged anyone with information to come forward.

“The Anglican diocese recognises we haven’t always got it right in the past and we are committed going forward to learning from our past, where possible working for restoration for mistakes, and creating a safer church,” he said.

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