26 Mar 2021

Catholic Church formally apologises to survivors of abuse

3:34 pm on 26 March 2021

The Catholic Church has for the first time formally apologised to survivors of abuse within the church.

Cardinal John Atcherley Dew poses during a courtesy visit to newly created cardinals on February 14, 2015.

Cardinal John Dew made the apology at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders in New Zealand. Photo: TIZIANA FABI / AFP

Cardinal John Dew made the apology at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders in New Zealand.

He said the church can offer no excuses for the actions of the church that caused harm.

However, the apology has been rejected by an advocate for male sex abuse survivors, Ken Clearwater, who described it as "hollow words".

"They've had 25 years to do something and they've failed... They're not apologising for what happened to the victims; they're apologising because they've been caught and it's now out in the public of New Zealand.

"It's happened around the world, finally it's here on the shores of New Zealand; that's why they're apologising. They want to make themselves look good."

Cardinal Dew said the abuse was perpetrated by people, such as priests, brothers and sisters and lay people that victims should have been able to trust.

He acknowledged the abuse caused pain, hurt and trauma which continues to have an impact on the lives of survivors.

Cardinal Dew described the abuse as unacceptable and indefensible and said the church was deeply sorry.

He said the systems and culture of the church allowed abuse to occur.

''These systems and culture failed you and must change."

''We apologise for the time we or our predecessors protected the church and not you.''

He said the church failed to listen to survivors, learn form them and refused to hear what they were saying.

''We acknowledge this compounded the hurt and suffering and acknowledge the ongoing physical, emotional or spiritual trauma you experienced.

''We apologise for our inappropriate responses for all we could have done but failed to do and for the times you were dismissed, ignored, not believed, belittled, forgotten.''

He said church leaders were committed to ensuring a safe church.

''Committed to putting you victims and survivors of abuse and your whānau first.''

Dew said the church remained committed to listening to victims. It would learn from what it heard, act on it and do all it could to address the harm done to them, he said.

Apology won't help victims - Clearwater

Today's move by the Catholic Church was hollow words, sad and would not be accepted by 90 percent of the people advocate Ken Clearwater works with, he told Midday Report.

He said for the last 25 years he had worked with most clergy orders in this country and the way he, survivors and their agencies had been treated was appalling.

The apology was not genuine, he said.

"I've been in respite care with three men this week who were survivors of clergy abuse and those men are in a helluva mess and I imagine this apology is not going to help them at all."

He said the Catholic Church and the government should sit down and look at the results of sexual abuse on the victims - some were in prison, some had taken their own lives, some were living on the streets and some had serious mental health issues.

"They need respite care, they need housing and they need education and most of them won't work and won't be able to work because of what's happened to them.

"...This is not just about giving some survivors a few thousand dollars and hoping you'll go away and forget about it because that's what they've tried in the past.

"That money is needed to go into helping all the survivors."

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Ken Clearwater says the Catholic Church's apology will not be accepted by many survivors of clergy abuse. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

He said if the church was genuine in its remorse they should do something but "to be quite honest I can't see that happening in the near future".

He is pessimistic about the future of the Catholic Church saying it's run by elderly men who have been covering up sex abuse for years.

"They've been hiding the true extent of it for years and they will continue to do so unless you completely open up your books which the Vatican's refused to do and they follow here in New Zealand."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests director Christopher Longhurst said an apology is unacceptable when it's not accompanied by personal apologies to each victim.

He said the church's response is more a reaction to the inquiry taking place.

Dr Longhurst said survivors want a personal apology so the healing can begin.

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