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New Zealand Catholic Church Fails To Deliver On Sexual Abuse Redress Promises

19 December 2023

Catholic Church officials in New Zealand “have failed to fulfil, and are not fulfilling their obligations to victims and survivors of clergy and religious sexual abuse under their own redress scheme,” according to a new study on the New Zealand Catholic Church’s institutional response to clerical and religious sexual abuse.

The study published last week in Stimulus, a journal issued by Laidlaw College, New Zealand’s largest interdenominational theological tertiary institute, was authored by Catholic theologian Dr Christopher Longhurst.

The report, which reads like a critical review of the National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS), an agency of the NZ Catholic Church that co-ordinates responses to complaints under the redress scheme Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path To Healing (APTH), questioned how that redress has fared in light of its own criteria. Conclusions based on independently verifiable evidence confirm that justice due to victims and survivors had not been delivered.

Outlined in the study were numerous examples of non-compliance with A Path to Healing’s principles and procedures by Church officials entrusted with implementing the APTH protocol. According to the report, this has resulted in “more harm to victims and survivors rendering the New Zealand Catholic Church’s healing mission ineffective and leaving all Church members at further risk.”

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The report states that NOPS was unable to provide evidence of any complainant being satisfied with the redress process. 

Testimony of victims and survivors who experienced APTH redress was documented. Among the testimonies were “denial of wrongdoing in concrete cases of abuse, the shielding of perpetrators, the protection of institutional reputation and financial assets, the isolation and disbelief of complainants, and concerted efforts to trivialize complaints.”

Laidlaw’s head of theology, Myk Habets, stated regarding the report in Stimulus: “While this is hard reading, it is necessary reading if the church is to learn from its mistakes, repent, and do better.”

The NZ Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care’s 2021 Interim Report On Redress stated that NOPS had not yet carried out an annual audit of the Committee responsible for implementing APTH, the Complaints Assessment Committee, as it was required to do. To this date no verifiable audit has been completed.

Earlier this month, Hans Zollner, a German Jesuit priest and expert on clerical sexual abuse, and director of the Institute of Anthropology Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Peter Beer, head of research and development at IADC, stated:

“No global institution has lost trust and credibility with such spectacular speed and efficiency as the Roman Catholic Church. It has achieved this over three decades by simultaneously preaching a message of special care for the poor, the marginalised, the excluded, the weak and the most vulnerable while at the same time mercilessly covering up crimes of abuse committed by priests against children: precisely those most weak and vulnerable.”

Pope Francis, in a recent address

to Safeguarding Officers, stressed the importance of all people being involved in healing the wounded: “We are all called to moral action, to bear witness to those who have been hurt by abuse. The Pope was clear on the relationship between redress and justice: “Healing is a work of justice,” he stated.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in New Zealand (SNAP Aotearoa), reported that the new study in Stimulus allows the public “to now judge the resolve of whether church leaders in New Zealand have responded fairly and compassionately as they promised to do."

SNAP hopes the study will have an impact on readers, raise awareness and galvanise public calls for full accountability from those responsible for not having provided the justice and healing that they promised to deliver.

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