17 Apr 2024

Survivor of abuse calls for 'meaningful' Catholic Church apology

3:26 pm on 17 April 2024
Frances Tagaloa

Frances Tagaloa Photo: Supplied

*Warning: This story story discusses child abuse and may be triggering for some people.

A Pasifika survivor of abuse in a faith-based institution in New Zealand is calling for a proper, "meaningful", in person apology from the Catholic Church to happen through formal redress.

Moeapulu Frances Tagaloa, suffered sexual and emotional abuse by a Marist Brother during the 1970s and has waited 22 years for an apology.

She said the Catholic Church should not be using media as scapegoats when making a formal apology.

"I waited 22 years for an apology and they went to media first," she told RNZ Pacific.

"It was re-traumatising and I would like the Catholic Church to apologise to me and my family in person."

Tagaloa suffered sexual and emotional abuse when she was between 5-7 years old at the hands of a representative of the Catholic Church.

The abuser was Marist Brother Bede Fitton, also known as Francis Fitton, who taught at the nearby Marist Brothers Intermediate school in Ponsonby. He has since died.

Following a previous story which highlighted the launch of Survivors Experience Service which she is co-chair, Tagaloa expressed her desire for an apology from the Catholic Church.

In response to this story, the Catholic Church provided RNZ Pacific with a statement which included an apology and an attempt to contact Tagaloa to make amends.

RNZ broadcast a story on air about the Catholic Church apologising to Frances, which was incorrect - a statement with an apology was sent to RNZ and did not happen in person, on her terms.

An on air correction has since been made as well as an in person apology to Tagaloa.

She said it was wrong in the first instance for the Catholic Church to send an email to RNZ instead of going to her directly.

"They approached RNZ and I was quite insulted. Because it doesn't seem appropriate to go to the media to apologise to a survivor. I would have preferred they approach me personally."

She had waited over twenty years and the second time she had asked for an apology from the church during the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care.

She told RNZ Pacific the Catholic Church's response felt disingenuous despite expressing her wishes, the church had not yet apologised to her in person.

RNZ Pacific has not included the full statement of apology from the Catholic Church, as she has requested it not be published until they have spoken with her in person.

"The abuse didn't just happen to me. The impacts were on my parents, husband children and my extended whanau."

Moeapulu Frances and Timo Tagaloa

Moeapulu Frances and Timo Tagaloa Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in Care investigated the abuse and neglect that happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care from 1950 and 1999.

Commissioner Ali'imumua Sandra Alofivae said Pacific people were one of three, (alongside Māori and people with disabilities), who were over-represented in the care system.

Tagaloa was one of only two Pasifika survivors willing to speak publicly during the the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care hearings.

She questioned how genuine the apology was and asked the Catholic Church make efforts to put the survivor first and make amends by offering an in person apology to Tagaloa and her family.

"I am still open to meeting with the Catholic Church and sitting down and explaining what a meaningful apology would like like to me."

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care will release its final report in June after multiple delays.

It is set to include recommendations for a proper redress system which will give advice to institutions on how to provide a meaningful apology to survivors of abuse.

"Survivors of abuse deserve a redress system now, it can't come soon enough."

'Put survivors first'

She is also urging journalists and media organisations to "put survivors first" by going to them with an apology before publication.

Tagaloa said without the right support and processes, survivors can be retraumatised.

"Put the survivor first and listen to what we would like. It should not be up to survivors to demand an apology over and over from their abuser."

Media organisations must have strong protocols in place moving forward as more people come forward to share their story of abuse and seek redress, she said.

"It is different for each survivor and some people will want to work with media, others may not. But it is up to the media to stand in the gap."