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NZ Catholic Church withholds findings on sex abuse claims

Phil Pennington, Reporter

The Catholic Church has withheld its findings about a child sex abuse accusation for months from the man who laid the complaint.

The man said he was "re-traumatised" and it proved the church's pledge to put victims first were empty.

This comes at the same time as the church hired a Wellington public relations consultant in the run-up to the Royal Commission into state abuse.

RNZ has been privy to documentation and emails from the church about the man's case. He wishes to remain anonymous.

These show he laid a complaint in June 2017 with the church; he also talked to the police, but the priest is dead so the police cannot prosecute.

The church investigator's report was largely finished last November and entirely finalised in February.

The church's own sex abuse complaint policies, called A Path to Healing, promise a report back to a complainant, and that in this case also that the head of the Marist Fathers will meet the man. Neither of these has occurred.

"I'm frustrated," the man said.

"In the beginning I legitimately thought that in complaining that this would be a way for this to seek on some level, in even a kind way, a pastoral way, healing to the injustice, though it hasn't been like that at all."

The emails show the National Office of Professional Standards, that handles clerical sex abuse, and the Society of Mary, that covers this particular case, have put off the man.

"Despite all the words, despite saying the right thing, I feel like I'm excluded from a process that is fundamentally about me but in a way has nothing to do with me."

He doubted the delays were because the church did not believe his complaint.

"On the contrary, I think it sends a signal that they do believe me but they want to try to not deal with it.

"They're hoping that perhaps, if the process is drawn out, I'll eventually, simply, kind of go away. Or it just defaults and nothing's done about it."

National Office director Virginia Noonan referred RNZ's enquiries to the newly-hired PR consultant in Wellington, Matthew Jansen.

The Society of Mary's sexual abuse protocol delegate Judy McCormack did the same.

"I can assure you that we are not in the practice of 'dragging out the process' in the hope that people who have come forward will 'give up'," Ms McCormack told the man in an earlier email.

"We, the members of the committee, work on the committee in and around our own employment. We follow a process that has an order of action."

The church, globally, has repeatedly said it had changed its ways - which had included moving predator priests around - to instead put victims first.

The man, a practising Catholic, rejected that.

"The process has upset me and re-traumatised me on certain levels too. The people who are involved in it tend to not be implementing their own protocols."

Pope Francis last month urged Catholics to do prayer and fasting as penance to child sex abuse.

The NZ Catholic newspaper in a current editorial said prayer and fasting was an "essential" underpinning of all other action on child sex abuse in this country, "no matter how much public scorn it attracts".

The man who laid the complaint was scornful.

"The bishops need to realise that ... those boys who were abused in their schools, in their churches, in their playgrounds, by their own clergy, are now grown-up men and they're members of the church, and they need to respect us and help us heal, they need to serve us because that's their mandate."

The NZ Catholic editorial did not mention a survivor group's appeal for the church to change the name of institutions in this country.

The church has now responded to the victim saying it sent him the investigators report in July, but the man rejects this has happened.

The church also says it's usual to sort out counselling first before issuing an apology or giving any money.


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