WELLINGTON (NEW ZEALAND)
Radio New Zealand [Wellington, New Zealand]
November 6, 2022
By Andrew McRae
A survivor of abuse says churches have missed a golden opportunity to really reflect on how Aotearoa-New Zealand came to have such an appalling record of abuse of people in care.
Faith-based organisations were given a chance to respond at the recent final public hearing of the Royal Commission in to Abuse in care.
Jacinda Thompson suffered sexual harassment by her Anglican minister in the early 2000’s, and she has given evidence to the inquiry.
She said that while abuse itself was condemned, most church leaders failed to accept responsibility for allowing it to flourish in the first place.
Thompson had hoped the churches would respond by taking a good hard look at themselves, look at their teachings and the part churches played.
”I was sure that the churches would know the value of genuine repentance and change. Without this how could they expect to rebuild people’s trust in their ability to keep people safe today?”
”To me there wasn’t enough in-depth reflection by those organisations on how this all came to be. There seemed to be a lot of deflection, blaming, excusing, minimising.”
She said there was a terrible record of abuse in faith-based institutions.
”A lot of christian teaching played into the abuse that happened.”
”Things like un-wed mothers being seen as a great sin and therefore being shamed into giving up their babies into institutional care. Things like biblical teaching of, don’t spare the rod, you need to hit your children to get them to behave. Where did those ideas come from? The church actually has to have a look at that.”
”The hierarchy of churches, where you have got men in these great positions of great power where they are automatically given huge respect, it makes it very hard for a survivor to speak up, because they are always going to feel they are not going to be believed.”
”Faith-based institutions could have tried a little harder to understand how by looking seriously at the influence of their own teaching. They must get real about the part that has played in New Zealand’s shameful history of abuse in care, not just reasons of accountability, but because there is a very real risk that this influence is still having an effect today.”
She said there have been some changes within churches, but they have been very slow.
”I see these organisations saying we have put in a good complaints process or now we have this policy that says this and so on, but while they are a step in the right direction, they don’t actually prevent abuse.”
Thompson said that while some churches have spoken to survivors saying they agreed with the idea of an independent body to take complaints and decide on redress, it was not stated by them at the inquiry.
”There didn’t seem to be the humility to say, ‘we can’t do this, we need to have independent oversight’. There was more that we are coming up with a new process now. Which is not independent.”
She said it must be mandatory for churches to engage with any new entity.
Thompson wants an independent body to be given powers to audit the work of churches, as well as deciding on redress..
She said it could be similar to the way the Education Review Office investigates schools.
”There is nobody going into churches to see what’s happening here. You can’t jump on line and see what sort of rating this church has got, where are they failing, what are their problems.”
”There is just no oversight whether the care is safe or not that faith-based institutions are offering, and they take some very vulnerable people through the doors of churches into all sorts of programmes, with no body looking at what is going on in those programmes and whether they are safe.”
Thompson said a new entity, as recommended by the Abuse in Care inquiry, was essential, as survivors have no trust in faith-based groups to do the right thing.
”History has well and truly broken that trust and churches have done little to restore it.”