Abuse survivors demand Wellington school removes portrait of alleged paedophile

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

November 13, 2021

By Steve Kilgallon

A portrait of a senior Catholic cleric accused of child sexual abuse still hangs on the wall at St Patrick’s College Silverstream – despite a survivors’ support group being told it had been removed.

Now the church says there are no plans to remove the picture from the Wellington Catholic boys’ college’s auditorium wall.

The late Reverend Father Patrick Minto, a teacher in the 1950s and then rector in the early 1970s, was named as an alleged abuser last November at the Royal Commission into state and religious abuse.

Tina Cleary read the testimony of her late father, Patrick, to the commission, in which he named Minto and another deceased former rector, Fred Durning, as abusing him as a pupil at the school in the 1950s.

The commission denied a request from the Catholic Church’s lawyers to suppress Minto’s name from the public record.

Tina Cleary said her father’s dying wish was the removal of the portraits of the two rectors from the school’s honour wall. The family had asked both the school and the Society of Mary, the Catholic order to which they belonged, to remove them and been denied.

However, the school had later removed the portrait of Durning, rector from 1950 to 1955, after pressure from parents. Durning has been named several times by survivors as a paedophile.

Murray Heasley, spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Abuse and their Supporters, phoned the college earlier this month and spoke to a school administrator, who assured him that the portrait had been removed, saying: “I’m sure it’s been gone for a long time”. Heasley recorded the conversation.

A few days later, the network’s other spokesperson, Liz Tonks, visited the school and saw the portrait still hanging on the wall.

The administrator said her comment to Heasley was an honest mistake, and she had confused the portrait with another – presumably that of Durning.

Stuff asked to interview the school’s rector Grahame Duffy, but was told the school would not comment on anything to do with historical sexual abuse and referred calls to the Society of Mary. Duffy did not respond, before deadline, to an email.

Society of Mary assistant provincial Thige O’Leary sent Stuff a statement saying the church was working on “framing a policy about the removal of photos and other honorifics of known abusers … following on from themes arising out of the testimony of victims/survivors at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.

“The policy will need to include a wide range of considerations including that it respect the wishes of victims/survivors while at the same time acknowledging the rights to a ‘fair hearing’ of any whose photos or honorifics are to be removed.”

O’Leary said until now, decisions on whether to remove photos at Silverstream have been based on whether complaints have been upheld. He said in the case of Minto, the church had fielded one complaint, which was not upheld.

That complaint had gone through the church’s own ‘A Path to Healing’ process, in which it assesses allegations – a process survivors’ groups want to change.

In an email (obtained by Stuff) sent in 2019 by the head of the society, Brother Tim Duckworth, to another former Silverstream pupil, Duckworth said a group had previously asked them to remove Minto’s portrait “based on … rumour”.

“Unless someone comes to us or police with a credible accusation … Fr Minto is entitled to his good name.”

One victim of abuse at Silverstream at the hands of Durning told Stuff he believed he had narrowly escaped abuse by Minto having been lured to Minto’s bedroom. He said he absolutely supported the removal of Minto’s portrait.

Heasley said: “It didn’t sound right that she [the administrator] said it was a long time [since it was removed], but she reiterated it. And I was open about who I was.

“They [Catholic institutions] are all in denial, and they refuse to shift the paradigm into a survivor-focused narrative. And their vision statement is guided by compassion and respect, and that’s their greatest values, so where is the respect and the compassion for the survivors?”

Heasley said if the school had told him the picture was not yet down, then he would have suggested a formal assembly with the entire school body, with the Cleary children as invited guests, and to hold a traditional cleansing ceremony so that the school could front up to its past.

Heasley said the church had done what it could to protect Minto. “They did everything in their power to suppress that name … and if they had been successful in that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. Because Tina would not have been able to say his name in public. They gave it their best shot, the name came out, so they all know, there is no mystery here.”

Cleary’s testimony, including his account of Minto abusing him at the school in the early 1950s, drew tears from some commissioners.

He said he found the “presentation of the pictures is especially galling, lighting placed as if they were angels, a demeanour of superiority as if they have a direct line to God.”

In her evidence to the commission, Tina Cleary said: “When you go into St Patrick’s Silverstream, there’s a hall of honour lined with portraits to revere and respect past rectors and priests.

“It’s there so children can look up and aspire to them as they walk through. And all Dad wanted was for Minto and Durning to be taken down.”

Cleary said the family had approached the school directly some years ago to take down the portraits and had received a letter “that was legal in tone and dismissive, and it made Dad feel like he was the guilty party”. She also referred to the unsuccessful approach to the Society of Mary.