30 Nov 2020

Woman abused at age five urges reform in Catholic Church

8:09 pm on 30 November 2020

A woman who was abused as a child by a Marist Brother has challenged the Catholic Church to make urgent changes to the way it operates.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care is hearing from people abused while in the care of the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Salvation Army.

Twenty-three survivors will give evidence over the next two weeks on what happened to them and how they have tried to get redress.

Frances Tagaloa, 52, was emotionally and sexually abused by Brother Bede Fitton who taught at the Marist Brothers intermediate school in Ponsonby, next to the school she went to.

The abuse occurred regularly for her between the ages of five and seven.

"Brother Bede would be fondling me or would want me to take my pants off and stand me up on a table and get me to read books. I was not sure what else he was doing because I was reading a book."

Tagaloa first started processing what happened to her as a child at the age of 17.

What followed was a drawn out process that to her is still far from settled.

"It just seemed strange to me that I had to go back to the Marist Brothers, to the very organisation that allowed the abuse to happen I had to go back to them to try and see if they would fix it or do anything about it and it made me quite fearful."

She wants transformational change in the way the Catholic Church deals with abuse.

"I believe the exclusion of lay people, particularly women in the leadership of the Catholic Church could have contributed to abuse of children. I feel like if lay people and women were in the leadership, in the priesthood, it might have balanced some of the risks.

"Honestly just having women priests would probably have prevented a lot of abuse."

She said there should be more training for priests.

"Just knowing there have been so many abuse cases makes me wonder what the Church is doing to promote child safety.

"Do they talk about child sex abuse being an offence?"

Tagaloa also wants the sanctity of the confessional when it comes to admissions of abuse thrown out the door.

"It should be allowed to be spoken about and reported. I would like to see the Catholic Church request the Holy See to have any such confessions excluded from that seal of confession, where the crime such as child sex abuse is reported, that they must report it to the police."

She said celibacy for priests was at the heart of the problem.

"The Catholic Church should consider introducing voluntary celibacy and while the vow of chastity remains priests should be trained, and screened and monitored as this lifestyle attracts cynical offenders."

Tagaloa described it as horrific that the Catholic Church had not recognised child sexual abuse as a crime.

The lawyer representing the Catholic Church at the hearing, Sally McKechnie, said the Church was committed to eliminating all forms of abuse.

"There are profound accounts of harm to individuals caused by members of the church that will be given this week and their hurt and pain is acknowledged. The bishops and congregational leaders express their profound regret and sorrow that anyone has experienced harm in the care of the church."

McKechnie told the hearing the Catholic Church in Aotearoa-New Zealand was not a single entity, with one leader, but was made up of six dioceses and 43 institutions and congregations.

She said they had come together to co-ordinate a Catholic Church response to the Royal Commission.

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