Steve Carvell's admission records, St Joseph's Orphanage in Upper Hutt, New Zealand, November 1-12, 1977.

Vatican investigating historic child sex abuse claims against New Zealand Cardinal John Dew

NewsHub [Auckland, NZ]

March 7, 2024

By Michael Morrah

[Photo above: Steve Carvell’s admission records, St Joseph’s Orphanage in Upper Hutt, New Zealand, November 1-12, 1977.]

Newshub can reveal the Vatican is investigating New Zealand’s highest ranked Catholic over child sex allegations. 

Cardinal John Dew, who delivered the church’s public apology to victims of clergy abuse at the Abuse in Care Royal Commission in 2021, is alleged to have sexually abused a boy who attended St Joseph’s Orphanage in Upper Hutt in 1977. 

Wellington police spent months investigating, but recently closed the file and have not pressed charges saying they were unable to locate enough evidence.

Newshub has learned a church investigation, overseen by the Vatican, is now underway.

54-year-old Steve Carvell alleges Cardinal Dew sexually abused him when he was seven years old.

Cardinal Dew says it’s a “false allegation” and took Newshub all the way to the Supreme Court to prevent the reporting of the allegation. The court has allowed us to tell the story.

“That’s a shocking allegation and it did not happen” Dew told Newshub.

“I do not know Steven Carvell,” he said.

Carvell told Newshub he was 100 percent sure Dew abused him.

“The abuse still continues today because those memories and those obscene occasions, those things in life that I never, ever want to feel, I still today feel those intense feelings,” he said.

Steve Carvell has taken the step of asking a district court judge to waive his automatic right to name suppression so Newshub can tell his story.

Carvell also alleges that he was raped by the late Father Noel Donoghue, another priest who was at the Upper Hutt parish in 1977, and that he was sexually assaulted by a nun who visited the orphanage.

He took his complaint to police, the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care and the Catholic Church’s National Office of Professional Standards (NOPS).

Cardinal Dew, who retired as the leader of the Catholic church in New Zealand in May last year, cooperated with the police investigation. 

He was interviewed for more than an hour by a detective at Lower Hutt Police station in December. 

Speaking to Newshub, Dew said he was “absolutely certain” what Carvell has alleged did not happen 

“I can honestly say with every ounce of my being that I have never abused anyone in my life. Ever.

“I would hope that people would believe someone who’s now had 48 years of experiences as a priest and has never had an allegation made against me,” said Dew. 

“This has come totally out of the blue 46, 47 years later and I’m telling my truth.” 

Police spoke to other people who were at the orphanage at the time but told Newshub they have exhausted all available lines of enquiry. 

“Police were unable to locate sufficient evidence to meet the evidential test – which requires sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. 

“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,” they said in a statement. 

Dew’s successor as Archbishop of Wellington, Paul Martin, said the Cardinal “has not been involved in public ministry since he became aware of the complaint.” 

This is standard practice while allegations against priests are investigated.  

Steve Carvell’s story 

Steve Carvell is deeply affected by memories of alleged sexual abuse which have surfaced in recent years.  

“The reason I’ve decided to share my story and come forward today is in the hope that other victims out there draw some strength from what I’m doing.” 

He claimed the sexual abuse happened during a stay at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Upper Hutt when he was a little boy.

His admission records confirm he was there for 12 days – from the 1st to the 12th of November 1977. 

“I saw that I was seven years old and it was at that point in time that I really broke down. I thought I might have been a bit older than that,” said Steve. 

“It was the saddest moment of my life.”  

Carvell said on his first night at the orphanage, he was woken by then ‘Father’ John Dew.  

Cardinal John Dew as a priest in the 1970s.
Cardinal John Dew as a priest in the 1970s.

“He said: you’ve been a naughty boy, you’ve woken everybody up in the room. But I’m going to let you off. How would you like to play a game of catch me if you can,'” 

Carvell claims the game swiftly became sexual in nature.  

“Things got a bit weird, so instead of tagging it became touching.”  

Carvell’s complaint alleges it was not only Father Dew involved in the game, but also a nun he says spent time at the orphanage. A nun he says he liked and trusted. 

Clergy directory records cited by Newshub confirm that Dew was one of four priests at the Upper Hutt diocese in 1977 

He rose through the church ranks over the following decades and in 2015 Pope Francis made him a Cardinal 

As the head of the church here, Dew went before the Royal Commission in 2021 to make a public apology to victims abused by Catholic clergymen. 

“I apologise to you on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders of the Catholic church,” he said at the time. 

“We offer no excuses for their actions, or for ours, that have caused you harm.” 

Dew told Newshub that his apology still stands, despite the allegations that have been made against him.  

“Absolutely, I stand by every word I said and that apology. Every word I said.” 

“I couldn’t have stood up at the Royal Commission and said all the things that I had if this was part of my background. I couldn’t have stood up if I was covering things up”, said Dew 

Fr. Noel Donoghue.
Fr. Noel Donoghue.

Carvell alleged Father Noel Donoghue – another priest at St Joseph’s at the time – also harmed him. 

Again, his memories are that the abuse occurred during a game of tag in the middle of the night.  

When Donoghue couldn’t catch Carvell, the priest became angry and Steve alleges he was raped.  

“It was the most painful thing that I’ve ever felt in my life.” 

When asked if he understood what was going on at the time, given his age, Carvell said he just knew his parents didn’t hurt him like that. 

He said he felt isolated and tormented and that Father John Dew made him feel what happened was his fault, telling him he’d been “naughty”. 

“So, it was a feeling of just begging for help from an adult and it never came.” 

Dew doubts the allegations against Donoghue are true.

“I find that very hard to believe. Very hard to believe,” he said. 

When asked by Newshub’s Michael Morrah why he believed that he said “oh, just unexpected of a person, the person, that I came to know.” 

What Carvell said he endured and witnessed hadn’t always been clear in his mind.  

His flashbacks started in 2019. The memories have become increasingly detailed and, at times, overwhelming. 

“That tends to be interestingly enough the primary way these memories come back. They tend to come back initially as fragments,” said Professor Martin Dorahy, a clinical psychologist at Canterbury University. 

 “And then over time these tend to be pieced together and then remembered.”  

Steve Carvell has suffered from complex Post-traumatic stress disorder for many years – which he attributes to the trauma of the alleged abuse. 

Prof Dorahy says it’s uncommon for people to fabricate memories of sexual abuse, but they may misremember certain details. 

“The majority of cases, it would seem, appear to reflect something that is more accurate, rather than something that is made up in a wholesale fashion.” 

In his legal bid to stop Newshub reporting the allegations, Dew’s lawyer attacked Carvell’s credibility saying “the source of the allegations, one person’s memories of events some 46 years ago, is not reliable.”  

Dew also said he had no idea why Carvell was making these claims 

“I do not remember him. I do not remember any of the children from the orphanage, because we didn’t go to the orphanage.” 

He has stood down from priestly duties while the police investigation took place and said that was very difficult. 

“It meant two very good friends who died in that time, I had to tell their widows ‘I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to do this because an allegation has been made against me’,” he said. 

Newshub has chosen not to name the nun accused as it was unable to independently verify her presence at the orphanage at the time. 

The Sisters of Mercy – who ran the orphanage – refused Newshub’s request to access their records, but through their lawyers said Steve’s allegations were “demonstrably untrue” 

In evidence provided to the court, Congregation Leader Sue France said the nun Carvell named was living and working full time in Palmerston North in the year the abuse was alleged to have occurred. 

Further evidence provided on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy suggested it would have difficult for a nun to travel between Palmerston North and Upper Hutt. 

One former nun also said in an affidavit that the abuse could not have occurred in the way Steve has described, without others hearing or being aware of it. 

Noel Donoghue died in 2005. 

Steve Carvell’s complaint was sent to the royal commission after the conclusion of its public hearings.  

The commission told Newshub that accounts and experiences received would still inform its deliberations. 

Now that the Police has closed its investigation, the Vatican is carrying out its own investigation into the allegations against Cardinal Dew.   

The Vatican is expected to conclude its investigation later this year.  

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