Leaked email reveals principal’s hope floods would distract from abuse publicity

Otago Daily Times [Dunedin, New Zealand]

February 9, 2023

By Daisy Hudson

A leaked email has revealed a Dunedin principal said a silver lining to the deadly Auckland floods was keeping a story about her school off the front page.

A pre-dawn blessing was held at Trinity Catholic College on January 28, to mark a new era for the school after changing its name from Kavanagh College.

It followed a 2020 investigation into former Bishop of Dunedin John Kavanagh, after whom the school was named.

The investigation found that seven priests, two brothers and one lay teacher sexually abused children, and in one case an adult, during that time.

The investigation found Kavanagh knew of complaints related to two priests: Father Freek Schokker and Magnus Murray.

In the case of Murray, it was determined he admitted abuse to Kavanagh and was sent to Australia for treatment.

Kavanagh did what he was required to under canon law at the time, but the probe found that, in the case of Fr Schokker, Bishop Kavanagh should have investigated the complaint – but failed to do so.

The blessing was attended by staff, pupils, survivors and members of the community.

The Otago Daily Times attended with permission from Bishop Michael Dooley.

However, in a leaked email informing staff about impending media coverage of the blessing, Kate Nicholson wrote that she was unsure what “slant” the reporting would take, but “at least Auckland’s terrible weekend is likely to keep us off the front page — a silver lining hopefully”.

The email was sent the day after the blessing, when Auckland was still being battered by historic flooding.

Four people died due to the unprecedented weather event, which resulted in a state of emergency being declared in the Auckland and Thames-Coromandel regions.

In response to questions, Nicholson said “all our work so far has been to acknowledge our past, learn from it and, try to not re-traumatise survivors in the process, and I hope our actions in these challenging circumstances are not misconstrued”.

The email was criticised by the Network of Survivors which also expressed frustration at the lack of notice about the blessing which prevented some survivors from being able to attend.

Spokeswoman Liz Tonks said the school’s name change was a significant step, but some within the church still failed to accept or understand the impacts of abuse.

“It was clear that the blessing and acknowledgment were kept on the down-low by the college.

“The network has been in its headlights for the best part of five years working to achieve the change of name for survivors, and yet no formal and sufficient notice was received to allow survivors to attend and appropriate supports to be put in place for an event that had the potential to re-trigger trauma.

“Only two survivors of the many were able to attend.

“Others were unaware until the network was able to circulate the event on social media a few days before and arrange a local advocate/supporter to live stream the blessing.”

Nicholson’s email “illustrates a complete lack of understanding of survivor trauma and how important the name change was to survivor healing and restoration of their mana”, she said.

“It illustrates a lack of intent to reach out to other survivors strewn throughout New Zealand who were given no notice or opportunity to attend or come forward if they have remained silenced.

“What it does illustrate, is a continuation of church institutions seeing protecting of their reputation more important than addressing the harm suffered by those abused in its care.”

Bishop Dooley was travelling and was unavailable for comment.