24 Nov 2019

Abuse survivor wants culture change in church, not resignations

2:47 pm on 24 November 2019

A woman who was sexually abused as a child by a Catholic priest in Northland says she wants culture change, not resignations.

Clerical abuse victims advocate Annie Hill.

Anne Hill says she wants members of the Catholic Church to be trained to be sensitive to the needs of sexual abuse survivors. Photo: RNZ / Mick Hall

Abuse survivor Anne Hill says church group member Rangi Davis excused the sexually abusive behaviour of Father Michael Shirres, saying he was "healing himself" when he had sex.

Mrs Davis has resigned her membership of Te Rōpū Tautoko, the Catholic Church group created to liaise with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in care.

Mrs Davis was newly appointed following the resignation of Bishop Charles Drennan last month.

Controversy surfaced this week after the reported comments from Mrs Davis to Ms Hill were made public.

Ms Hill was preyed on by Father Shirres, a Pākehā priest who lectured in Māori theology at the University of Auckland, wrote several books on Māori spirituality, and was celebrated for decades among tangata whenua in the Far North.

After Ms Hill reported Father Shirres 26 years ago, he admitted to the offending and was demoted to brother.

But the crimes were covered up and only made public last year.

Ms Hill's spokesperson, Murray Heasley, said she did not want Mrs Davis to resign.

"She would have much preferred that Mrs Davis and others have the opportunity to be fully trauma informed and trauma trained to be sensitive to the needs of survivors," he said.

Ms Hill wanted a culture change, Mr Heasley said.

"Her wish is for the culture of the Catholic church to be transformed, from one of ignorance, protection of the perpetrator... to one of openness, transparency," he said.

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