27 Feb 2018

Abuse survivors speak out, accuse govt of backtracking

8:01 am on 27 February 2018

A father and son who accuse leading Catholic clergymen of sexually abusing them] as schoolboys are also accusing the Prime Minister of going back on her past assurances.

no caption

Photo: 123RF

The two say the upcoming Royal Commission is this country's once-only chance to call the Catholic Church to account for child sex crimes, but that chance is slipping away.

This is the first time the men have spoken publicly about their experiences, as a war of words intensifies over whether the Royal Commission should exclude non-state institutions.

RNZ has agreed not to name them.

They speak of leaving behind fear and intimidation in the wreck of their studies, at St Patrick's College, Silverstream, in the 1950s and a North Island college in the 80s, with both going on to have productive careers, the son as an international businessman.

But both have also carried with them for decades something more than just bad memories.

Listen to an extended interview with man.

"It wasn't until 2002 when I told my case to the Marist Helpline that I stopped smelling this man," the father said. "I smelt him for 49 years", he said.

"Men in those days didn't use deodorant and when a man's trying to drag you into his body, increasingly at a high pitch saying, 'I don't know what to make of you', and trying to masturbate against you ... I smelt him clearly for 49 years."

He broke free. A few days later, the man told him his grades were suffering and he would cane him.

"I was in the top stream, I was a good student, I was enjoying the college.

"My formal education aged 13 ended because I was traumatised, I was frightened. I was a boy who never cried - I woke in the mornings amazed I'd stopped crying during the night."

He told no one, not his parents nor anyone in authority, until that 2002 helpline call which, he said, led nowhere after he was advised the Marist Brothers would bring in lawyers.

The man he accuses died more than a decade ago.

Nevertheless, in the 1980s the father sent his own son to a Catholic school, albeit a different one. Why? He shrugs painfully - it was a family tradition.

The son said a hostel master subjected him to oral sex two or three times while he, aged 14, lay in his dormitory bed.

"I thought I dreamt it the first night. The second night I realised it was not a dream, it was a nightmare."

He told his parents. They confronted the Brother, who, the father and son said, offered to leave the school, and was transferred to another Catholic school, and went on to work in more schools until recently.

Listen to an interview with him.

He filed a police complaint in 2003, the son said, but there wasn't enough evidence beyond his word against the Brother's.

The two men say they have never had real justice.

Govt never held Church to account

The government had never held the Church to account, but the Royal Commission could address that, the son said.

"I think it's probably the only opportunity to pick up all the offending that has taken place and address the crimes of the past, but also address the protection [of] our children in our communities of the future."

He's now taking aim at the Prime Minister, citing an email he got, when he was lobbying for a wide-ranging inquiry, from Jacinda Ardern, Labour's then Spokesperson for Social Development.

"I should highlight that I would not like to see our approach excluding institutions or only targeting one for instance. This would be a disservice to all victims," wrote Ms Ardern in the January 2013 email.

However, the Royal Commission's draft terms approved by Ms Ardern's Cabinet in 2018, would exclude addressing abuse in non-state institutions of all kinds, where the state had no involvement in sending a child to them; so that, for instance, a child sent to St Pat's by the state is on a different footing from one sent by their parents.

Asked about this exclusion, the Prime Minister said "actually it doesn't".

"The main criteria is if you as a child or young person were in the ... care of the state then wherever the state sent you, that will be part of the inquiry."

Ms Ardern then conceded the inquiry would differentiate between survivors.

"That's the difference, if that state wasn't involved then we have differentiated there. And in part that's because where the state's been involved then we actually have an opportunity to rectify whatever form of abuse happened regardless of where you were placed - if you were in the state care we are looking into that."

All types of abuse were covered, she said, adding that any survivor, no matter who abused them, was welcome to tell their story to the commission. They could also go to the police, she said.

"Why would I want to turn up to an inquiry where the actual perpetrators and the faith group that is responsible for my abuse do not form part of that inquiry," said the son.

"There's no way that's going to be addressed properly."

He and his father are also taking aim at the Catholic Cardinal John Dew.

They met him on Friday.

They say he told them there was "no downside" in the Catholic Church being fully involved in the inquiry, but also gave no signal he would lobby the government for its inclusion.

"I think that's hypocritical," said the father.

Cardinal Dew has not responded to RNZ's request for comment.

He met the pair on the heels of Bishops meeting for two days in Wellington to, in part, discuss how the Church will respond to the Royal Commission.

The Church will be involved, due to the state sending some children into its care.

The leading law firm in this area, Cooper Legal, estimates a bit more than half of children abused in the Church got there via the state, so will be fully covered by the Royal Commission.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs