A ‘mega-abuser’: More revelations of sexual abuse by Catholic priest 

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

July 6, 2022

By Joanna Naish

More people have come forward with stories of abuse by a now-deceased Catholic priest.

Stuff previously reported about six complaints of sexual abuse against Father George William Harrison, who coached schoolboy rugby and served in many parishes in Christchurch and on the West Coast from 1935 until he retired in 1981.

Since then several people contacted Stuff with stories of their own, with one describing Harrison as a “mega-abuser”.ADVERTISING

A man who was an altar boy in Christchurch in the early 1950s said he was groped by Harrison, who was known as Doc.

“Doc was a hard case character who liked to get you in a corner and feint boxing. During this ’bout’ it was not uncommon for him to go for your genitals,” he said.

He knew of other altar boys who told him the same thing had happened to them.

Another man now in his 80s, who grew up in Greymouth, said when he was 15 he used to wag school in a hut at the beach in Blaketown by the Greymouth Aerodrome.

One day he was in the hut when a man dressed in a singlet approached and offered him a cigarette. He was sitting on a log smoking when the man put his hand on the teenager’s crotch.

He later saw the man changing into priest’s clothes in his car at the beach. He followed him and saw him going into the presbytery. He next saw the man and learned his name was Harrison when he arrived to serve as a priest in Hokitika.

A woman said she was raped by Harrison in 1968 when she was 18 years old.

She has set up a Facebook page for survivors of Harrison’s abuse and was hoping together they could challenge the church’s handling of complaints.

“The way the church handles its investigations is cruel and can be more traumatising than the actual abuse.”

She said after reading the article about Harrison she slept better than she had in a long time.

“I felt I was no longer alone in this and others must feel similar.”

Te Rōpū Tautoko, the group that coordinates the Catholic Church’s engagement with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, found 1122 individuals had made 1680 reports of abuse against 592 Catholic clergy, brothers, nuns, sisters and lay people between 1950 and 2021.

Bishop of Christchurch Michael Gielen earlier said the diocese had records of six complaints relating to Harrison, who died in 1987. The first complaint was made in 1993 and the others from 2002.

“Because the complaints were made after Fr Harrison’s death, it was too late to take any action regarding him.”

Most of Harrison’s parishes were in Christchurch suburbs, but he was in Hokitika intermittently before working in Greymouth from 1968 to 1975. He then worked in Ross until he retired and died in Greymouth.

A man, who did not want to be named, said in his statement to the Royal Commission that Harrison immediately befriended his family when they moved to Greymouth in 1969.

The man, now in his 60s, described the physical, sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse he suffered from Harrison between 1969 and 1971. The offending caused lifelong and at times debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder.

Harrison would appear outside school to drive him home, then take him to secluded spots including the beach at the Greymouth Aerodrome and try to kiss and touch him, the man said.

He would force the boy to perform a sex act, or punch him if he refused.

If the teen managed to get away and walk home, he would find Harrison at his home drinking tea with his mother, he said.

Gielen said records showed Bishop of Christchurch John Cunneen wrote one letter of apology to a complainant about Harrison, but there was no record of any investigation. Cunneen died in 2010.

The church’s professional standards complaints committee did not keep complete sets of meeting minutes at the time, so it was difficult to follow up its investigations, Gielen said.

Cardinal John Dew, the archbishop of Wellington and metropolitan archbishop of New Zealand, made a formal apology to all victims of abuse from the church during a public session of the Royal Commission in March 2021.