Sateki Raass quit the priesthood after pleading guilty.

Catholic church calls in Vatican to investigate sexting priest case

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

October 10, 2021

By Steve Kilgallon

[Photo above: Sateki Raass quit the priesthood after pleading guilty.]

The head of the New Zealand Catholic church has asked the Vatican for permission to launch an investigation into the handling of complaints about a priest who groomed a teenage girl.

Sateki Raass resigned from the priesthood after he was convicted in 2019 of indecent communication with a girl under 16 and ordered to serve 100 hours community service.

A series of stories by Stuff has since unravelled the Auckland diocese’s handling of the case. This includes bishop Patrick Dunn’s original plans – all later reversed – not to tell school communities attached to Raass’ parish, to allow Raass to say mass after his arrest, and to bail him to a presbytery attached to another primary school despite bail conditions prohibiting contact with under-16s.

Dunn also told parishioners Raass’ offending was merely “inappropriate text messaging”, paid for a QC to represent Raass, and has not directly apologised to the victim’s family.

The girl’s aunt gave testimony to The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care​, which triggered a letter of complaint from a support group, The Network of Survivors in Faith-based Institutions and Their Supporters.

The group’s leaders, Liz Tonks and Murray Heasley, wrote to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference – the group of the five New Zealand bishops.

Among their criticisms of Dunn was his lack of focus on the victim, his downplaying of Raass’ offending, and saying Raass had been stood down when Dunn had originally planned to let him say another mass before being stopped by officials.

“Bishop Dunn had an opportunity to make things better… but acted to the public shame of the institution he represents.”

Cardinal John Dew responded with a letter saying the issue was his responsibility, and he had referred it to the Congregation for Evangeliz​ation of the Peoples, a Vatican committee which oversees much of the worldwide church.

“I have included your letter with materials I have sent to Rome and have asked for permission to set up an investigation into how this case was handled,” he wrote.

Dew said he had also alerted Archbishop Novatus Rugamba​, a Wellington-based Tanzanian cleric who is the Pope’s representative in the Pacific region.

The investigation process is one set up by Pope Francis in 2019 reserved for complaints about bishops and was used that year when the Bishop of Palmerston North, Charles Drennan​, was forced to resign (although not removed from the priesthood) after admitting to allegations of sexual misconduct.

After Stuff wrote another story on October 3, which revealed a previous complaint against Raass when he was in Tonga had not been relayed to the Auckland church, Tonks and Heasley wrote again to Dew, who replied saying: “I can assure you that this material will be forwarded to Rome to be added to the material that has already been sent.”

When Stuff called Dew’s mobile phone, a woman answered, and after a muffled conversation in the background, said Dew was “not available for comment”. Asked if he would ever be available, she said he was very busy.

Responding to a follow-up email enquiry, Dew wrote: “I am obliged to send information to Rome if there is a possibility of processes not being followed”.

He explained that the Pope required any complaints relating to bishops to be referred to Rome. “I have asked Rome if anything further should be investigated. My referring of it to Rome does not pre-judge Bishop Dunn’s actions.”

Dunn’s spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said referrals to Rome were an issue for Dew to comment upon.