Catholic Church leaders admit dealings of abuse inadequate

Television New Zealand - TVNZ [Auckland New Zealand]

October 17, 2022

By Corazon Miller

The latest hearings into abuse in state and faith-based care ended with a number of survivors and advocates walking out as the head of the Catholic Church gave evidence.

Cardinal John Dew was speaking before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care this afternoon on the subject of how the church deals with sexual abuse admissions that are divulged during the sacramental rite of confession.

In reference to a colleague’s earlier statement, he said: “As Tim Duckworth said this morning, in 40 years he hasn’t had anyone who’s confessed sexual abuse, and I certainly haven’t. Or in over 40 years [had] someone who has spoken about sexual abuse.”

One of those who walked out told 1News many had heard this as saying the church had not been made aware of abuse – when the evidence said otherwise.

Today’s hearings are part of a fortnight of sessions that look at how faith-based institutions, including the Catholic Church, have responded to the allegations of abuse. It looks specifically at that which happened from 1950 to 1999.

Data provided to the Royal Commission shows that across that time period there were at least 1680 reports of alleged abuse, including sexual, emotional and physical abuse within the Catholic Church itself.

Dr Filip Katavake-McGrath attended a Catholic school for most of his life. As someone who identified as a Fakaleitī – someone who is a male at birth but who has a feminine gender expression – he was often told to act less “girly” and to pray to be like everyone else.

His teachers also seemed to turn a blind eye on the abuse he suffered at home. While he is now married and has a successful career, he says this combined legacy of family and school abuse has left a mark – even 40 years on.

“It shaped my world by teaching me that my pathway had to be one where I was lower than others, where I could accept abuse and abusive behaviour,” he says.

“I’ve been in jobs where I’ve been bullied mercilessly, where it’s not okay to be brown or gay.”

Church leaders today were questioned extensively on what happened under the church’s watch, with several acknowledging it could have done better.

Society of Mary’s Fr Tim Duckworth says “more should have been done to prevent the pain and suffering of all those who should have been kept safe”.

St Patrick’s College Silverstream’s Clare Couch saying it did not doubt the pain the abuse had caused.

“Our hope is that we will continue to learn from the past and protect the vulnerable from harm happening in the future.”

Abuse survivor Moeapulu Frances Tagaloa says it was hard listening, as often the church seemed to be excusing and justifying what happened.

“Hearing justifications, excuses, and rationalising the church failure to protect children and vulnerable adults, is challenging for anyone particularly for survivors.”

She hopes that as the Royal Commission of Inquiry makes its recommendations next year, that a new independent body will established, to deal with cases of abuse outside of the institutions that they occurred within.