Covering up the coverups

Gisborne Herald [Gisborne, New Zealand]

October 2, 2021

By Matthew Epsom

The bishops’ coverups of priests raping children were bad enough. But who would have thought New Zealand’s Roman Catholic Church would devise a new strategy to conceal its coverups.

That appears to be the case based on evidence from the Royal Commission’s Phase 2 Hearing for faith-based abuse, regarding the Catholic Church’s National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS).

This suggests that the coverup of Catholic priests raping children is not really about child sexual abuse. In fact, the Catholic Church is not unique when it comes to its clergy raping children. But what makes it unique, and what gives those crimes such depth, is the Church’s power and authority.

Roman Catholicism has had the capacity to compel its victims and their families to collude in their own abuse and to keep its heinous crimes of priests raping children secret for decades. It is this system of hierarchical power that has abetted this coverup, and New Zealand’s Catholic Church appears to have taken it to the next level.

At the commission’s hearing, survivors of Catholic clerical child sexual abuse reported their lack of confidence in NOPS, not least because that very office is the same Catholic Church responsible for the abuse.

But the philosophy behind being both abuser and healer has resulted in conflicting objectives and dysfunctionality. For example, complaints lodged by victims against priests who raped them were apparently not properly investigated. Consequently, accused priests would remain in ministry, and churches and schools across New Zealand would remain places for potential child sexual predation.

But if the desired effect of that philosophy was to trick the public by giving a false impression that church hierarchs were being responsible when they were not, then that goal may have succeeded. However, crafting guidelines to address complaints and then deliberately ignoring those guidelines would hardly be an honourable modus operandi.

In 2018, the chilling Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed what investigators described as the Catholic Church’s “playbook for concealing the truth”. They unearthed an operation used by church officials to cover up decades of sexual abuse of thousands of children by hundreds of priests.

Now New Zealand’s Catholic Church appears to be following that playbook, according to what was evidenced at the hearing. Testimony revealed that investigators engaged by NOPS as “independent” persons were on the Church’s payroll and even had email addresses ending in, the domain of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

Also evidenced was how the committee charged with overseeing NOPS, the National Safeguarding and Professional Standards Committee, apparently the same people in different roles, obstructed a complaint filed by survivors against NOPS for non-compliance with the Church’s redress protocol Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path To Healing.

Questions were asked at the Royal Commission. However, when so much power and no transparency exist in a single system, then anything can happen behind closed doors and no one has any way of knowing. Such secretiveness only reinforces the tenacity of the Catholic Church concealing crimes committed by its own.

Until the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team hurled Catholic bishops hiding priests raping children into the public arena in 2002, covering up these crimes was the same procedure everywhere: swear victims to secrecy; send abusers to be “cleansed” in a clinic; move them to another church, or in New Zealand’s cases to the Pacific islands; and, above all, don’t tell the police.

Instead, today in New Zealand, since abuse cases cannot be so easily concealed, at the end of a harrowing in-house redress, a secretive Complaints Assessment Committee routinely rejects victims’ complaints on grounds of insufficient evidence. The relative church authority then concurs and notifies the victim via a letter devoid of any acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Therefore, no apology and no pay-out or settlement. Consequently, no justice is served, and no healing whatsoever. But this process is called Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path To Healing.

What results from this form of double-coverup, besides a fooled public, is further trauma for the victims and their families. All this despite the same church hierarchs telling the public they are now listening to survivors and dealing with the abuse.

Such a practice of policy production would only be lipstick on a pig if those policies were not being used to suppress complaints and deny the alleged abuse. Most dangerous of all is the possibility that innocent and helpless children remain at risk as predator priests remain in ministry.

The only adequate response to this abuse of power would be to demolish the Catholic Church’s closed, hierarchical global power structure of which Vatican City State and its Holy See are the embodiment.