15 Feb 2018

'Being a white and Catholic priest ... it's a paradise for him'

8:18 am on 15 February 2018

Expanding the inquiry into child abuse, to include religious institutions, would help victims in other countries unlikely to get justice on their own soil, Filipino community leaders say.

The government needs to consider expanding its planned Royal Commission into child abuse to include religious organisations, Filipino community leaders say.

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(file photo) Photo: 123RF

Philippine ambassador to New Zealand Gary Domingo has written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for an expanded Royal Commission of Inquiry.

He cited the case of the paedophile priest Denis McAlinden who spent time in the Philippines and other countries as well as a year in New Zealand in the 1980s.

Ms Ardern's office referred Mr Domingo to the Children's Minister.

So far, the draft terms for the Royal Commission into abuse in state care does not include the Catholic Church or other faith-based organisations.

Mr Domingo said McAlinden's case showed why it was vital to look into religious organisations.

He said there could be other priests who were sent overseas from New Zealand who abused Filipino children.

"Since there is a connection to abuse having been perpetrated in the Philippines ... I have also been instructed by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to properly address the situation and support Filipino victims," Mr Domingo wrote to the New Zealand Cardinal John Dew.

Ambassador Gary Domingo.

Philippine ambassador to New Zealand Gary Domingo wants the inquiry expanded. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Leaders in the 50,000 strong local Filipino community also wrote to Cardinal Dew, saying New Zealand should copy Australia's wide-ranging and recently concluded inquiry into institutional child sex abuse.

"By supporting and endorsing a New Zealand Royal Commission ... the Catholic Church would be free of any inference or suspicion of bias that internal investigations naturally invoke," the leaders said.

One leader, Aucklander Sam Dignadice, said New Zealand could definitely make a difference in the Philippines if it was investigating church and state.

This was in part due to the sorts of connections between the two countries illustrated by McAlinden, Mr Dignadice said.

He attended a high school in St Pablo City near Manila where, in 1995, McAlinden served for two years, taking confessions from schoolchildren.

"Being a white and Catholic priest, he's almost like a representative of God - it's a paradise for him."

Mr Dignadice had not heard of any accusations from the school against McAlinden but said the Philippines' colonial and religious history made it very unlikely the Church would be challenged, while New Zealand represented a different approach.

"The Philippines have never had any inquiry about these things, it's all under the carpet."

In a statement, Catholic Cardinal John Dew said the Church recognised its own failings, and was studying the draft terms of reference for the New Zealand inquiry, and the results of the Australian inquiry.

However, he did not say if he supported the Filipinos in their call for the inquiry to cover the Catholic Church.

The New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice director, Rosslyn Noonan.

Rosslyn Noonan. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice director Rosslyn Noonan said there was only one opportunity to get a national inquiry right.

"There's widespread concern that the current terms of reference are too limited ... and we should take this one critical opportunity," she said.

A big plus of the New Zealand inquiry, versus the Australian one, was that it aimed to cover all abuse, not just sexual, and to hold the state accountable, she said.

Lawyer Courtney McCulloch, who handles many abuse survivor cases, said under the current terms the inquiry would probably cover about half the children who went into church care, because the state would have had some involvement.

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