Abuse in Care: Anglican Church accused of cover-up over 'sex addict and pervert' priest
By Michael Neilson
December 08, 2020
|Louise Deans speaking before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, currently hearing evidence of survivors from faith-based institutions.|
A woman who says she was one of dozens sexually assaulted and harassed by an Anglican priest has accused the Church of continuing its battle to silence her.
Louise Deans was sexually assaulted and harassed by a priest during the 1980s and early 1990s while training to become an ordained Minister in the Anglican Church.
Deans would find out at least 35 other women involved with the Church had been abused by this priest.
Speaking to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care in Auckland on Wednesday, she alleged the church sought to cover up the abuse.
Deans wrote about her experiences in the book Whistle Blower: Abuse of Power in the Church – a New Zealand Story, which she told the commission the Church had attempted to prevent publication of in 2001.
The abuse on Deans began in the 1980s, just two months after she began her training with her appointed bishop, referred to only as "R".
He had been recommended for her, as one of the first women in the programme, but it turned out he was a "sex addict and a pervert", Deans said.
At first it was unwanted sexual advances, which she was able to fend off, before it turned into harassment and eventually sexual assault.
At the time Deans said she did not feel comfortable raising the alarm, as she felt he could stop her from becoming a minister.
But the abuse continued.
"In his office, in the library, in the chapel, in other public places – but I was too tired to care anymore.
"It even seemed sort of normal, which would indicate the degree to which I had lost all moral sense of what was right and what was wrong."
Deans confided for the first time in a vicar, who told her it was best to keep her mouth shut.
She began to ask other churchwomen if they had been sexually abused by R.
"Every woman I asked admitted that she too had experienced R's sexual advances to one degree or another.
"Their experiences had ranges from telephone harassment to sexual assault."
Some of the women even set up a warning system whereby others coming into the college could be alerted about R.
"We put the word into the network of churchwomen throughout New Zealand. Many more shocking and tragic stories emerged."
The abuse heavily impacted Deans then and later in her life.
"It's hard to remember, you know, you felt so disgusting and yet I still have four kids to look after and get ready for school in the morning and make them breakfast.
"I became increasingly weepy and crying and began having breakdowns."
She and a friend also being abused at the time decided to wait until they had been ordained before taking official action against R, because they feared otherwise they would not be believed.
"We would then be able to talk about it because then we would be within the context of clergy and would be listened to."
In September 1989, Deans and three other brave but nervous women priests submitted formal written complaints to the Bishop following the procedure laid down by the Church canons.
The response came that their complaints were "unsubstantiated".
Thus began a lengthy battle with the Church. Eventually R was removed from his position, and they were told he would not to be around women anymore.
But there was no real recognition of what he had done, she said.
Deans alleged he had been thrown a leaving party, been apologised to for his victimisation, and given a full year's salary.
Deans said she was told by the Archbishop the Church had "its own law which was separate and different from secular law".
"He said that as priests of the Church we did not have recourse to civil law and that judgment would be meted out by the law of the Church.
"He then informed us that the law of the Church differed from civil law and that it was concerned with forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than with prosecution and punishment.
"He commanded us to work within the law of the Church."
Deans and several other women received payouts from the Church in 2003, ranging from $8000 to $25,000.
But after 30 years, Deans said there was still "absolute denial and no acknowledgement".
In 2001 when she was due to release her book, Deans said through lawyers the Church sought her to amend sections they deemed "inaccurate".
But Deans disputed this. "They were not able to be corrected."
Deans said the Church had also sought to prevent her from presenting some of her evidence to the Royal Commission.
"It is very difficult to find a response for somebody 20 years later is still the Royal Commission letters requesting [R's] reputation to be salved. I find it very peculiar."
Deans, who's now retired from her work as a reverend, said the Church still had a long way to go to address sexism and power imbalances.
It was very difficult for women to come forward with complaints with the prevailing view they had "asked for it", and fears it could affect their careers and turn people against them.
She called for abuse prevention strategies in the Church, a national register of offenders to be made available to all licensing bishops, and financial punishments to be applied to offenders for personal responsibility.
"They cannot even follow their own processes, nor their own canons and rules," Deans said.
"The Church is focused on defending itself. The victim is not seen as the Church's problem. Change in institutional perspective is very much needed."