St Patrick’s College Silverstream ‘abuser’ portraits stay on walls of school’s ‘hall of fame’

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

October 18, 2022

By Steve Kilgallon

St Patrick’s College Silverstream says “natural justice” stopped them removing the portrait of an alleged sexual offender from its walls – a claim which has outraged sexual abuse survivors and campaigners.

School officials appeared at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into State and Religious Care on Monday to answer for its horrific record of sexual abuse.

The school is owned by the Catholic Society of Mary – known as the Marist Fathers – and Stuff has reported how multiple Marist priests sexually offended against students from the 1940s to the 1980s.

The school removed a portrait of former rector Frank Durning, a prolific paedophile, in 2019. But it says it’s still considering whether to remove any more, and won’t offer a timescale for a decision.

It told the hearing that a decision to keep up the picture of another former rector, Patrick Minto, was because allegations were “unsubstantiated”.

Both Minto’s family and the family of a survivor of Minto’s abuse, the late Pat Cleary, had asked for its removal. Cleary’s testimony was tabled posthumously to the Inquiry in 2020, in which he detailed his abuse and how it felt “galling” to see Minto’s portrait still hanging.

The school says it’s still considering a fresh appeal from the Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-Based Institutions and their Supporters to remove portraits of Minto, former teacher Michael Shirres, and another former rector, Leo Evatt, about whom Stuff reported in August allegations of abuse.

Clare Couch, chair of the school’s Board of Proprietors, told the hearing the school “expresses deep sadness at the abuse that has occurred: it is shocking and shameful”.

Couch said while many students had fond memories of the school, others did not and they had to “accept that as our history”.

In her written testimony, Couch said the school declined to remove Minto’s portrait in 2019 after the Marists told them the allegations were unsubstantiated and evidence insufficient. The school concluded it had to “balance the needs for the survivor to respect the harm that has been done to them but also natural justice … in this instance, the allegations had not been upheld against the priest and both the priest and his accuser were deceased”.

In her testimony, Couch said they needed information from the Marists before making a decision on the latest request. She said it was the Marists’ job, not the school’s, to investigate complaints against priests.

She said that taking down the portraits was a “challenging situation to be in… to remove a portrait in a way seems a simple answer, but it doesn’t feel like a simple situation.” She suggested a board subcommittee might need to consider the request.

Asked by Stuff about the 2019 decision and what the timescale would be to make a decision on the portraits, Couch said she had said all she could at the Commission and had “nothing to add”.

Murray Heasley, spokesman for the Survivors Network, said: “Natural justice? If there was natural justice for these children then this sexual abuse would never have taken place.” He said the church claimed to have shifted to a survivor focus, where survivors were believed. “This shows nothing has changed in their culture of defending their own reputation.”

The survivor of Evatt’s abuse said if his portrait remained up it was “further evidence, not that we need any, of the church’s continued attempts to question or deny the accusations of past abuse victims”.

Cleary’s son, Dan, said: “Dad never asked for compensation, all he wanted was for the portraits of the two priests who abused him to be taken down from the ‘hall of fame’ at Silverstream. My father wanted them to fess up and he knew that this simple request would force them to do that. Dad wanted a blank space to be left on the wall … so students would enquire why, so they would learn who these priests really were.”

A survivor of abuse by Durning, given the pseudonym Albert Lewis by Stuff, said he believed he’d narrowly escaped abuse by Minto, that Minto knew of Durning’s offending, and the portrait should “definitely” be removed: “These men are being honoured.”

The school also told the hearing it hadn’t retained records prior to 2005, which Board of Trustees chair Sean Mahony said was “not unusual”. Asked if sensitive records ought to have been retained, Mahony left a long silence, and said: “I don’t feel I can answer that.”

The Inquiry was told 26 complaints had been received against nine former teachers from 1945 to 1982. Albert Lewis said this was a huge understatement: “I know nine, without even asking anybody else.”

Stuff has interviewed survivors of Evatt (rector, 1944-49), Durning (rector, 1950-56) and Minto (rector, 1971-74), Alan Woodcock (teacher, 1982), and have heard at least four other former teachers named as offenders.

Marist Fathers provincial Tim Duckworth told the Inquiry that “some of the worst offenders that we’ve had were at this school. So I don’t think this represents every Catholic school … I think that families at Silverstream must wonder what went on.”

Duckworth maintained previous denials that others had known of the offending at Silverstream while it was happening, saying: “It hides in corridors in the dark and often people didnt know what was happening right infront of their eyes.”

Dan Cleary said that maintained a narrative that the perpetrators acted alone, and in secret, “which serves the interests of an organisation not wanting to take full responsibility and be accountable for the likelihood that the abuse was known about at the time it was happening and was covered up.”

Albert Lewis said he had always believed Durning’s offending was widely known and the school had functioned as a paedophile ring.

Duckworth faced questioning about another former Silverstream priest and teacher, Michael Donnelly, referred to in the hearing as ‘Father X’. Duckworth said Donnelly was allowed to return to teach after two complaints but said there had been uncertainty about his identity and firm denials from Donnelly.

He said Donnelly admitted the offending in the early 2000s and police informed. The Marists have since upheld two complaints against Donnelly, who has never been charged as he is understood to have lived in Asia ever since.

Duckworth was also questioned about the offending of Alan Woodcock, a prolific offender eventually jailed in 2004, but first convicted in 1979 before he was allowed to teach at Silverstream in 1982 on the advice of a psychiatrist. Woodcock almost immediately began offending against pupils. Duckworth said the Marists back then had not understood sexual offenders’ recidivism and were “incredibly naive”.