18 Oct 2022

Former Catholic Bishop of Auckland questioned over recommending priest facing abuse allegations

7:15 am on 18 October 2022
Bishop Patrick Dunn, the former Catholic Bishop of Auckland, answers questions at the royal commission of inquiry into abuse in care at faith institutions.

Bishop Patrick Dunn says he has been trying to help people who have had convictions to get their life back on to an even keel. Photo: Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care

The former Catholic Bishop of Auckland has come under intense questioning at the abuse in care inquiry over recommending a priest, who had three allegations of abuse made against him, for a teaching job.

The Catholic Church appeared at the Royal Commission hearing in Auckland on Monday.

Bishop Patrick Dunn was responding to complaints made about Tongan priest Sateki Raass.

Raass was convicted in March 2019 for assaulting a person under 16, and he was sentenced to do 100 hours of community service. He later resigned from the priesthood.

He was a priest under the control of the Bishop of Tonga but was working in the Auckland Diocese.

Bishop Dunn was asked by counsel for the inquiry Katherine Anderson why he recommended Raass for a school teaching job nearly two years after he had been convicted.

"The principal [of the school] was also aware of the situation and felt it would not be a problem," Bishop Dunn said.

The teaching position did not eventuate.

Bishop Dunn said in hindsight, Raass holding a teaching position would have been unwise.

"In some ways, yes, but on the other hand, he is a pretty talented man and comes from a family of teachers."

Counsel assisting Katherine Anderson speaking at the royal commission of inquiry into abuse in care at faith institutions.

Counsel for the inquiry Katherine Anderson. Photo: Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care

Anderson asked the bishop if he understood his views might be seen as unrelenting support for Raass.

''You know you have had personal knowledge of three reports of abuse and you have been aware, at least in 2013, that he had been suspended in Tonga. It is a very strong sense of a commitment you have got for this person,'' Anderson said.

Bishop Dunn replied: ''It is not a strong sense of support for him per se, but all through my life I have tried to help people who have had convictions to get their life back on to an even keel."

He did not think it was unwise, but that it might not have been the right time, he said.

Raass was sent to live at a presbytery near a Catholic school. The school chair wrote to Bishop Dunn asking why it had been allowed.

''The actual choice of Balmoral was made within hours, so he had to move somewhere," Bishop Dunn said.

"The police had no objection to the move. Later, the bail conditions were changed. I don't think the police ever saw Sateki Raass as a threat to primary school children.''

Bishop Dunn said he was kept at arm's length from the complaints, as it was investigated by the church's professional standards committee.

"So the complaint went to them and I was always kept at a distance from the actual complaint, so I was not an investigator as it were."

Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, speaking to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care at faith institutions.

Cardinal John Dew reiterated the Catholic Church's apology at the royal commission hearing. Photo: Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care

The Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, spoke to the Royal Commission last year and he was back on Monday.

He reiterated the apology given on behalf of the Catholic Church in March 2021.

"Abuse is wrong, it should never be part of the church. I, and all of us, are ashamed on it. We are working hard to put safeguarding practices in place and we will continue to work on that.

"We will continue to work on what we have discovered during the time of this royal commission."

The mission of the Catholic Church today was to build a safe church, Cardinal Dew said.

Dr Paul Flanagan, a lay member of the Catholic Church's National Safeguarding and Professional Standards Committee, told the inquiry that abuse of trust was never acceptable.

"Such an abuse of trust in Catholic faith communities is shameful. It is shameful that people in authority who may have known about the abuse did not act in the victims' favour.

"Whether bishops, priests, brothers, sisters, even parents, the level of abuse that we know of is painful to us all, so we need to support those who come forward to disclose abuse done to them and support them through which ever process they prefer."