Bishop admits to recommending priest who groomed teenager for teaching job

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

October 17, 2022

By Steve Kilgallon

A Catholic bishop has admitted recommending a priest who had been sacked for grooming a teenage girl be given a teaching job at a Catholic school.

Retired Auckland bishop Pat Dunn says that in 2021 he supported ex-priest Sosefo Sateki Raass for a teaching job because he was a “talented man”.

That was despite Raass’ conviction in March 2019 for indecent communication with a person under 16, when he was sentenced to serve 100 hours community service. Raass had groomed a 15 year old girl and asked her to meet him secretly, and send him nude photos.

Dunn was appearing before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care to explain his handling of the Raass case.

Dunn said in hindsight, his recommendation of Raass as a teacher was “unwise”, but then walked that back during oral testimony before the Commission in Auckland on Monday, saying: “In some ways, yes [unwise], but on the other hand, he is a pretty talented man and comes from a family of teachers…. all through my life, I have tried to help people who have had convictions to get their life back on to an even keel and to learn from past mistakes.”

He said he was approached by the principal, who knew of Raass’ history, and “I thought that could be quite okay”.

Dunn’s testimony brought gasps and cries of ‘shame’ from the audience.

Stuff reported on the Raass case, and Dunn’s handling of it, in a series of stories in 2020 and 2021. We have reported how Dunn had planned not to tell school communities attached to Raass’ parish, to allow Raass to say mass after his arrest, and to bail him to a presbytery attached to another primary school despite bail conditions prohibiting contact with under-16s. He had also told parishioners Raass’ offending was merely “inappropriate text messaging”.

Dunn was questioned in the Inquiry about why he had written a file note to himself describing Raass’ offending as simply a “big mistake”.

The hearing heard that when Dunn stood Raass down as police investigated the complaint, he allowed Raass to write to his parish community saying that Dunn had granted him leave for a spell of “spiritual nourishment”.

Dunn had previously dealt with two complaints about Raass in 2011 and 2013, with one of them resulting in Raass being sent for counselling. He said he could not explain that decision, saying he had simply rubber-stamped a decision of a disciplinary tribunal. He said: “On reflection, I felt that we tried to address each of the complaints as best we could and I feel we did do as best we could.”

He had also learned of complaints about Raass from his time in Tonga before coming to New Zealand in 2009 but said they had been characterised to him as “gossip”.

Dunn also revealed that the church had paid $60,000 for Raass’ legal defence – he was represented by QC Steve Bonnar, now a district court judge – and had also paid Raass a $2,000 a month stipend from January 2018 when the complaint was lodged, until November that year. He admitted that during that time he’d had no contact with the complainant.

The complainant’s aunt, who has previously appeared at the Inquiry under the pseudonym Ms CU, told Stuff that she had discovered through members of the Tongan Catholic community about the job offer to Raass, because he’d told community leaders he intended to begin teaching.

I am shocked,” she said, and was worried that Raass, because he was not placed on the sex offenders’ register, could still find such a job and parents not be informed.

She said the latest revelation confirmed her belief that the complaint was badly handled. “His [Dunn’s] actions speak louder then words and in everything they did added further harm to the 15 year old victim and my family. The impact continues to this day.”

Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-Based Institutions and their Survivors spokesman Steve Goodlass said: “I’m shocked but not surprised by the Bishop’s actions. We’ve heard … that the church did not understand the risks of perpetrators in the last century and Bishop Dunn has shown that they still don’t now. It’s disturbing in the light of all the statements the church has made that say they’ve ‘learned’.”

The Ministry of Education said school boards are required to ensure safety checks on all staff every three yars and “the safety of students is important for all schools, and they are all required to have child protection and complaints policies and procedures in place”.

Dunn also drew gasps from the audience when he said he disagreed with the Catholic church’s ‘Dallas Charter’, an agreement of ‘zero tolerance’ towards priests with substantiated allegations against them. He said he believed people needed a second chance.

Christopher Longhurst, New Zealand convener of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said: “He’s disrespecting the Pope’s own wishes, he’s putting survivors’ at risk, and he’s putting his abusive priests before the safety of survivors.”

Dunn retired earlier this year due to failing health.