Marylands: ‘darkest chapter’ in NZ Catholic Church’s history

NZ Catholic [New Zealand]

March 22, 2022

By Michael Otto

The deeply evil abuse of vulnerable children that happened at the Marylands School in Christchurch, and at St Joseph’s Orphanage and the Hebron Trust, was “the darkest chapter of the Catholic Church’s history in New Zealand”.  

That’s what was stated in the closing submission filed by Te Rōpū Tautoko, on behalf of the Bishops and Congregational Leaders of the Catholic Church of New Zealand, on the last day of the case study hearing into Marylands School by the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care. 

Marylands School operated from 1955 to 1984, and was run by the Hospitaller Brothers of St John of God.  

The royal commission hearing, which ran from February 9-17 this year, heard testimony from 22 abuse survivors, as well as from survivor advocates, a Police representative, a Government official, a lawyer, Brother Timothy Graham of the St John of God brothers, and Archbishop Paul Martin, SM, the apostolic administrator of Christchurch diocese. 

The Te Rōpū Tautoko closing submission stated that “It is clear, from previous Police investigations, the redress process and the evidence at this hearing, that abuse at Marylands was widespread, and [was] caused by many offenders. It is the darkest chapter of the Catholic Church’s history in New Zealand”.  

The abuse involving the Brothers of St John of God in New Zealand accounts for 16 per cent of all allegations of sexual abuse reported to the Catholic Church in New Zealand. One man, Bernard McGrath, accounts for approximately 5 per cent of all sexual abuse allegations, the Church has stated. 

McGrath, now 74, is currently serving a 33-year jail term in Australia. He was sentenced to 61 years jail across five trials in two countries.  

An ABC report noted that an Australian royal commission into child abuse heard that 40 per cent of St John of God Brothers in that country during the time covered by their investigation were sexual abusers, the highest percentage of any religious order. 

The ABC report added that the New Zealand inquiry heard that the percentage of brothers who abused children in New Zealand was closer to 60 per cent, but could be more. Other reports stated that 21 of the 23 brothers who worked in New Zealand had had accusations of abuse made against them.  

The Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests Aotearoa stated that, “in order to protect our children and society in the future, the onus is now on the New Zealand Government and Catholic Church to ensure this religious order and its affiliates never operate again in New Zealand”. 

“Further, we believe this order continues to pose a serious risk to children and society in countries where it continues to operate. We believe the order should be suppressed by the Holy See and shut down in the countries where it still operates today.” 

N Apologies 

The Te Rōpū Tautoko closing submission noted that Archbishop Martin and Brother Timothy Graham made “profound apologies” at the hearing, “to all who were hurt and harmed while in care at Marylands and the Hebron Trust”.  

“As they and the wider Church acknowledges, these places should have been places of nurture and safety for vulnerable young people. They were not.” 

The survivors’ testimonies told of shattered lives, broken relationships, mental health issues, poverty, imprisonment, retraumatisation in subsequent dealings with the Church, inadequacy of redress and more. 

The Te Rōpū Tautoko closing submission noted that “most of the boys at Marylands were separated from family support, many with no families or dysfunctional homes; they had learning or developmental issues and were vulnerable to threats. The young people at Hebron were on the margins of society, which had led them to be on the streets”. 

These particular and distinct vulnerabilities of victims at Marylands and Hebron Trust were among the reasons that the abuse at these institutions went on for so long without detection or prevention, the submission stated. Shame and “fear that they would not be believed, or fear that they would be further harmed”, were among the factors. 

“To modern eyes, with the extent of the harm revealed, it seems unfathomable that lay teachers, staff, social workers, Government officials, parents and Church leaders were unable to detect and prevent this abuse from occurring. There is no one simple answer to this question,” the closing submission stated. 

“Evidence given throughout the hearing shows that factors include” . . .  historical societal attitudes towards victims of abuse and belief of complainants, and attitudes towards those in positions of authority. 

There was also evidence of boys not being believed by their families, and by Police when they sought to make complaints. 

Other factors included the lengths perpetrators went to hide their abuse, and systemic failings by regulators, social workers and Church authorities, including insufficient and incomplete investigation of complaints, or complaints not being followed up. 

“It is clear from the evidence given by survivor witnesses,” the closing submission stated, “that for many children and young people at Marylands and Hebron, [they] were one part of a dysfunctional system of care, which ultimately allowed abuse to foster and abusers to prosper. The Church takes responsibility for the failings of its part in that system.”  

“The safeguarding processes within the Church during the Marylands period were rudimentary and insufficient. The evidence of Br Tim is that, within the order during this period, complaints were brought to the prior of the community. What is now clear from the record is that, for periods in the history of Marylands, the prior himself was an abuser.” 

The closing submission also acknowledged that opportunities to prevent abuse were missed, that allegations were not believed, documents were destroyed, good records were not kept of allegations and responses to allegations of harm, and there was a lack of knowledge between generations of Church leaders. 

“This has allowed abuse to go undetected for far longer than it should have, and for that, the Catholic Church deeply and sincerely apologises,” the closing submission stated. 

N Change 

The closing submission added that the modern culture and understanding of abuse has changed, as had Church protocols, responses and procedures in safeguarding and responding to complaints. The redress process continues to shift towards being survivor-focused, and modern record-keeping is comprehensive and detailed, the submission added. 

“For many it has not changed enough,” the closing submission acknowledged, “and this royal commission will go some way to install further change. There is still work to do.” 

The closing submission also acknowledged that “It is clear from the evidence of survivors that the harm caused to them, both the abuse suffered, and the secondary injuries, has caused them to lose trust in institutions such as the Church”.  

“The destruction of trust then extends to other institutions, such as concerns that the Police are controlled by the Catholic Church, and impacts on efforts to improve. The Church acknowledges that the trust for these people has been fractured by the actions of Church members, and that rebuilding it may take generations of work. But this work must start now.” 

The closing submission discussed aspects of redress approaches, and added that “the Church encourages the Inquiry to recommend external measures for the Church and other institutions. These will assist the Church in demonstrating progress to survivors in a way which is independent and genuine. It is clear that a system of redress entirely internal to institutions is no longer a realistic way forward. Indeed, the Commission’s redress report highlights that”.  

“The Church urges the Commission to continue investigating what effective redress would look like from a survivor perspective. There has not been enough time in this hearing to fully explore what survivors want and need from the redress process, and the Church will continue to engage collaboratively on this process.” 

Going forward, the closing submission stated that “the Church is focused on safeguarding for all, and participating in the creation of a system of redress for those seeking to heal from harm. The Church will continue to address and remove barriers for survivors reporting abuse”. 

“The Church, through Te Rōpū Tautoko, has steps already underway, and the Commission’s redress report and this hearing are key moments to solidify these actions in concrete ways.” 

“The Catholic Church will continue to engage with, and work with, the Royal Commission, the Crown, and other faith-based groups, towards a just resolution for survivors of harm in New Zealand. Of critical importance is the desire to work with survivors and their advocates on this path.” 

“We now need to work collaboratively towards what best practice is today and in the future.”