New Zealand police end abuse probe into cardinal

The Pillar [Washington DC]

March 7, 2024

By Luke Coppen

New Zealand’s Cardinal John Dew will face no charges after police ended a 10-month investigation into an abuse allegation that the retired Archbishop of Wellington firmly denies. 

Dew said March 7 that the police had informed him “that this investigation has now been concluded, their file has been closed, and no charges will be laid against me.”

The cardinal, who at 75 years of age is eligible to vote in a papal conclave, will now face a separate Church investigation.

In a statement, Dew said that he first learned of the abuse allegation on May 6, 2023, the day after his retirement as the Wellington archbishop was announced.

The claim dated back to 1977, when Dew was an assistant priest in Upper Hutt, a city in Greater Wellington. The website CathNews New Zealand said that the allegation related to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy.

“I stated immediately, and state again now, that there have never been any instances of improper or abusive behavior in my 48 years of priesthood,” Dew wrote.

The complaint was submitted to the Church’s National Office for Professional Standards, which handles abuse complaints, and the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse, a body investigating abuse in state care and faith-based institutions.

Dew stepped aside from ministry during the police investigation.

The cardinal said that he was interviewed by the New Zealand Police, in the presence of his lawyer, more than six months after he was informed of the allegation.

“From the moment I was told of this alleged behavior I have strenuously denied that the events described ever happened,” he said.

“This has now been thoroughly investigated by the New Zealand Police, others have been  interviewed, and sworn affidavits provided to the Police prove that these allegations could never have happened.”

Dew, who was Archbishop of Wellington from 2005 to 2023, added: “From the time that I became a bishop, I have lived by my episcopal motto, ‘Peace through integrity.’ Integrity has always meant a great deal to me and the words of that motto have guided my life.”

“I do not know the person making the allegations and have never met him. The allegation against me is false, it may come from a well of anguish and grief arising from other reasons.”

“I am acutely aware of how distressing this is for many: survivors who have put their trust in me, our church community, and my family and friends. I state once again that all incidents of abuse are wrong. I hope and pray that all abuse victims will find peace and healing.”

Dew, who received the cardinal’s red hat in 2015, concluded his statement by saying that “these alleged events never happened.”

According to the New Zealand Herald newspaper, the New Zealand Police said: “After conducting extensive inquiries into the case, including speaking to a number of potential witnesses, police have exhausted all available lines of inquiry into the case.”

“Evidence is often harder to locate or no longer exists as potential witnesses and suspects may pass away, and physical evidence may no longer be available.”

“As such, the case has now been closed; however, police will always consider new information that may come to light in relation to an investigation.”

The New Zealand Herald said that Dew had sought an injunction to prevent Newshub, a news service on the country’s Three television channel, from airing a report on the allegation. The appeal went to the Supreme Court of New Zealand, where it was dismissed March 5.

In a March 7 message, Archbishop Paul Martin, Dew’s successor as Archbishop of Wellington, said: “The New Zealand Police investigated the allegation. They have stated that they have concluded their investigation and no charges will be laid.”

“Cardinal John retired as Archbishop of Wellington in May last year on reaching age 75, the normal retirement age for Catholic bishops. In accord with our protocols, Cardinal John stood aside from all public church activities when the allegation was brought to the attention of the Church. Cardinal John has asserted his innocence throughout.”

“Inquiries by the Church are not run concurrently to those being undertaken by the police. Now that the police investigation has concluded, Cardinal John continues to stand aside while Church inquiries proceed.”

“This has been a distressing situation for all involved. I would ask that we pray for all those affected and offer support where we can.”

As New Zealand’s metropolitan archbishop, Martin will oversee the Vos estis lux mundi inquiry into the allegation against Dew. The cardinal will continue to stand aside from ministry during the Church investigation.

John Atcherley Dew was born in Waipawa, a town on New Zealand’s North Island, on May 5, 1948.  He was ordained a priest of the Wellington archdiocese in 1976. He was named a Wellington auxiliary bishop in 1995 and coadjutor archbishop to Cardinal Thomas Williams in 2004. 

Dew served as president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 2009 to 2016, and again from 2020 to 2023.

Martin was named as his coadjutor archbishop in 2021, succeeding him on Dew’s 75th birthday.

As Archbishop of Wellington and the metropolitan archbishop responsible for New Zealand’s five other dioceses, Dew appeared before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in March 2021.

“I apologize to you, on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand,” he said.

“I also apologize to you on behalf of those who preceded us as bishops and congregational leaders. We offer no excuses for their actions, or for ours, that have caused you harm.”

Dew also submitted several witness statements to the Royal Commission.

In an October 2022 statement, he said: “I absolutely acknowledge that significant mistakes have been made. Nonetheless, my overwhelming experience has been that the Church’s response to these issues is one of continuing learning. The Church has learnt much, is always learning, and must continue to learn.”