23 Dec 2020

Survivors of abuse in care of the Catholic Church say their voices matter

5:32 pm on 23 December 2020

Victims of abuse while in the care of the Catholic Church say survivor voices matter the most.


SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is a world-wide organisation supporting women and men wounded by religious and institutional authorities (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns, coaches, teachers, and others).

Dr Christopher Longhurst, National Leader of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Dr Christopher Longhurst. Photo: Supplied

It is active in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Its National Leader in New Zealand, Dr Christopher Longhurst, said the organisation believed that it was of paramount importance that the Royal Commission use the extent of its powers to look further and deeper to discover where the abuse was still happening today, and make the necessary recommendations to stop it.

He said SNAP believed that it was totally unacceptable that any religious leader would claim that faith-based abuse was all historical.

"This adds to the abuse, as a secondary form of abuse, and the RC (Royal Commission) must not overlook this aspect of systemic faith-based abuse."

Longhurst said they believed that Cardinal John Dew's (Archbishop of Wellington) position that abuse in the Church was all historical was on the face of it implausible because these crimes were revealed over time, and the church must take this fact into consideration.

"How would Cardinal John Dew even know if abuse were not happening today?"

The Royal Commission into Abuse in Care in 2020 held public hearings on both State care abuse which was followed by hearings into abuse carried out by churches.

RNZ put a series of questions to SNAP, which canvassed some of its members for responses.

Do you feel engaged by the commission?

"I feel highly engaged by the Commission. I made a public hearing submission and have watched others."

"I definitely have felt engaged by the commission mainly because I was called as a witness for a hearing. They have given me an opportunity to be a voice for survivors, to be heard, to share my story."

"Ambivalent. The Commission has a very difficult task and it's not something that's happened in Aotearoa New Zealand before - so I understand that they are still learning. Sadly, they have made some mistakes and that adds to my caution. It would be helpful if the Commission were to make their internal policies and ways of working more transparent e.g. publishing their Well-being and Support policy on their website (I wasn't able to find it a few days ago), telling us whom they have contracts with to support us and to carry out the Commission's research etc: have a better complaints process (it's good the complaints policy is transparently available on the website but complaints have to be made within three months of the event being complained about) etc. And even the best policies are useless without good implementation."

"I feel somewhat disaffected! It still seems unduly PR focused. Sometimes RC staff do not follow up with promises and this is dangerous because it makes me feel as if I'm just a number participating in a scoring competition for numbers. As a survivor, I feel I have still not been fully heard. Just part of a mechanical process."

"Yes, but I am someone who searches out chances to be heard. I think a lot of voices are not being heard and that many people have no understanding of the scope of the Royal Commission or how it works (i.e. that they won't be cross examined or disbelieved, can report only in writing, can be anonymous etc.). Wider advertising is needed on tv, social media, newspapers, radio etc."

What is your view on the public hearings?

"I think that the public hearings are extremely useful. If the press and public response to my submission is anything to go by, the public submissions are encouraging large numbers of people in New Zealand to look at ourselves and the ways we treat each other."

"The public hearings seem helpful at raising the issues for Survivors. I've been surprised that there are not more expert witnesses, but hopefully that will come. Someone like Tom Doyle (a priest, canon lawyer, addictions therapist and long-time worker for clergy sex abuse victims) might have been helpful. I was also surprised that faith-based Survivors were not mentioned more in the interim report or that the report did not give some initial recommendations. I hope the faith-based voices are not sidelined as the report seemed very one-sided."

"I've read and watched some of the public hearings. The survivors' statements are powerful. I find the process appears formal and judicial rather than the more relationship-based approaches I am familiar with. I guess this is just how Royal Commissions operate but it is more detached than I had imagined it would be."

"Something I value from the survivors' hearings is that I have the sad sense of being one of a largely invisible community, and yet for a few hours some of us were seen."

"There were not enough examples of survivor cases used and there was not any clear information given to the public as to why these survivors (the ones used in the public hearings) and not those survivors (ones not heard)."

"I think they give a safe platform for survivors to tell their stories. This is important in bringing healing, giving those silenced a voice. It needs to be said though, that victims and survivors need to know what will happen if or when they speak with someone from the Commission. They need to know that their story will not be taken out of their hands. That they do not have to make a public submission."

"I would like to see we as laity being permitted to start setting up groups to facilitate support for the victims in real terms. For hierarchy to listen to victims and lay people in what they suggest the Church does in bringing healing."

"The accounts of abuse are devastating and people can begin to lose hope and faith, become completely disillusioned. To hear stories that don't just tell what happened in abuse, but of healing from it brings hope."

"I was also surprised that faith-based Survivors were not mentioned more in the interim report or that the report did not give some initial recommendations. I hope the faith-based voices are not sidelined as the report seemed very one-sided."

What are your hopes for 2021?

"My hopes are that the Commission will continue to collect evidence to challenge the ways we treat each other here in NZ and that a majority of New Zealanders will listen. I also hope that the many thousands of people whose abuse happened outside the scope of the Commission will find their voices and use them."

"Although I am grateful for this Commission, I hope we don't have to wait much longer than a year before recommendations are made. It seems like a long time to wait. I hope more Survivors will come forward. I hope the recommendations are bold, inclusive of faith-based survivor issues, and will be implemented."

"That the work of the Commission will be strongly positioned to make a powerful difference to survivors, children and adults at risk now and in the future."

"Despite the focus on numbers, I wish the RC would still get more up to speed to understand that each and every single person who reports to them is either a victim or survivor or is affected by the abuse, and they have to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity and patience. I feel the RC staff are still lacking in this regard. I hope the Commissioners will understand more and systemic layers within the structure of institutional abuse, especially in the Catholic Institution. That it recommends that the NZ Crimes Act be amended so that behaviours such as being secretive about sexually abusing children is deemed to be an obstruction of justice and a crime in its own right."

"I look forward to hearing the Church response next year. But I fear the spin its leaders and lawyers will put on things could be retraumatizing."

Anything else you might like to add

"I hope that the sad sexist narrative that abuse is solely a thing done by men to women will fade away to oblivion."

"Looking at the numbers of the report of survivors that have come forward it seems not as many faith-based Survivors have done so. In Australia their Commission had a lot more faith-based Survivors come forward and I'm wondering why that is. Are there more cultural barriers in NZ? Are survivors weary of the Commission not being effective enough to make changes? Have survivors been silenced by faith-based institutions?"

"I'm concerned that the methodological limitations in the reports on numbers and economic costs could detract from the issues."

"Based on the Commission's interim report, the New Zealand situation seems to have been much, much worse than Australia. But there's not much reference to faith-based abuse in the interim report and it seems not as many faith-based survivors have come forward compared to Australia's numbers, of which 60 percent of abuse were in Catholic institutions."

In March/April 2021, the Catholic and Anglican Churches and the Salvation Army will respond to the Royal Commission as it ends the redress phase of its inquiry.

Where to get help:

SNAP Aotearoa-NZ: 022 3440496

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs