Steve Goodlass was stunned to see the photo. Kavinda Herath / Stuff

Abuse survivor shocked to see paedophile priest on display at Mission Estate

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

November 28, 2021

By Steve Kilgallon

[Photo above: Steve Goodlass was stunned to see the photo of Marist Fr. Frank ‘Fred’ Durning. Article includes video interview with Goodlass.]

Visitors to the award-winning Mission Estate in Hawke’s Bay are treated to a history lesson about the “pioneering” French missionary priests who set up the vineyard in 1851. The winery’s own website declares: “Their inspiration, a legacy we continue”.

And among the exhibits for tourists at the vineyard to study was a booklet containing biographies of some of the most influential Marist priests from the order of the Society of Mary – which still owns the vineyard.

This month, one visitor was outraged to find among them a glowing eulogy of the late Frank Durning, whom the Marists themselves have admitted was a paedophile.

The society has since issued hurried instructions to remove any reference to Durning after seeing a Facebook post by Steve Goodlass, himself a survivor of Catholic abuse, who visited the vineyard while on holiday earlier this month.

In 2019, after a campaign by abuse survivors, Durning’s photograph was removed from St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, where he was rector from 1950 to 1955, and committed abuse.

The biography of accused Catholic paedophile Frank Durning, which was on display at the Mission Estate until last week. Supplied / Stuff
The biography of accused Catholic paedophile Frank Durning, which was on display at the Mission Estate until last week. Supplied / Stuff

As Stuff reported earlier this month, the society is resisting the removal of the portrait of another late former rector, Patrick Minto, who has also been accused of abuse.

In 2019, the Society of Mary admitted Durning was an offender, with the then-provincial, David Kennerley, telling RNZ his behaviour was “criminal”. They upheld one complaint against him in 2019 and are understood to have fielded at least two more.

Stuff spoke to one survivor of Durning’s abuse, who, as Mr F, gave evidence at the Royal Commission on Abuse. He said the abuse ruined his schooling, and Durning was known as ‘Fred the Fiddler’.

Another former pupil said Durning had assaulted him and was well-known for doing so to pre-teen boys under the premise of individual sex education lessons.

And another Silverstream alumni, the late Patrick Cleary, had his account of his abuse at the hands of Durning read to the Royal Commission by his daughter Tina.

Goodlass was exploring a room of Marist history, next to the main tasting room at the vineyard, when he saw a lectern with a folder full of biographies of deceased Marists. Among them was a biography of Durning, which called him “a teacher of such excellence that he transformed the lives of many” but which omitted any mention of his paedophilia.

“I wasn’t surprised, and the reason I say I wasn’t surprised is because they don’t give a s…,” Goodlass said, pointing to the years-long battle to remove Durning’s portrait at Silverstream.

He said it was interesting that the society had acted only after his social media post, “that that’s the thing that sparks their proactivity, is getting some survivors lash out”.

“I’ve changed my mind about removing stuff. I think if they are going to remove it, they should put it into an area that’s their penance area – to say ‘this is our history as well, this is how we have abused children’, because if they remove that stuff, they are erasing history. And if they sanitise history, they can continue to do what they do.”

Former Marist priest, teacher and sex offender Frank 'Fred' Durning. Supplied
Former Marist priest, teacher and sex offender Frank ‘Fred’ Durning. Supplied

He posted the find on a social media page for survivors of Catholic abuse, and shortly afterwards, the Society of Mary apologised, assistant provincial Thige O’Leary writing to Murray Heasley, spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Religious Abuse and their Supporters: “We sincerely apologise that there was a document with a page about Fr F Durning on public display. It was not supposed to be there. Management at the winery have been asked to remove it and have done so.”

Heasley agreed with Goodlass, and emailed the society to say the biography should remain on display, “annotated, explaining that he was a child sex abuser, and kept in that room. That is acknowledging the pain and taking responsibility … simply removing it is airbrushing history, sanitising it and avoiding responsibility.”

O’Leary did not respond to that suggestion.

Heasley said the church had to confront the issue of continuing to venerate abusive priests, citing an honours board at St Patrick’s Silverstream which contained the names of several known abusers.

Christopher Longhurst, NZ national leader of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) said eulogising paedophile priests “perverts the cause of justice” and left church leaders “complicit in the crimes of those predators”. He said it was also a form of “institutional protectionism” and re-traumatised survivors. “Any historical tribute or honour to a predator priest must be withdrawn.”

But he agreed photographs could be left, but re-titled showing the priests as predators, so the church “own the abuse”.

In a statement to Stuff, O’Leary said: “A folder containing brief biographies of deceased Marists was removed on receiving information about a Facebook post objecting to its containing a bio of a known sex abuse offender. An apology was made to the survivors group.”