19 Oct 2022

Abuse in care inquiry: Methodist Church apologises to Wesley College abuse survivors

6:36 am on 19 October 2022
Wesley College entrance.

Wesley College, near Auckland, was established in 1844 and is the oldest registered secondary school in Aotearoa. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

The Methodist Church has acknowledged survivors of historical abuse at Wesley College saying it recognises the pain and suffering.

The church told the Abuse in Care inquiry on Tuesday that it wanted to apologise unreservedly to them.

It also acknowledged people who had suffered abuse in former children's homes and other schools overseen by the Methodist Church.

Through lawyer Maria Dew KC, the church said some children were horribly abused and neglected.

Out of 28 redress claims, 20 received by the church had or were in the process of being resolved, it said.

Wesley College, near Auckland, was established in 1844 and is the oldest registered secondary school in Aotearoa.

Drew told the hearing the college did not shy away from the difficult reality of the survivors' evidence.

There was a significant period of abuse between 1983 and 1994, a time which covered a cluster of survivors, she said.

Methodist Church of New Zealand general secretary The Reverend Tara Tautari said she acknowledged the pain and suffering of all those who were abused while in the care of the church.

"The church carries the primary responsibility for ensuring the protection and well-being of those in its care. We failed in this sacred duty and are determined to make amends."

Additional harm was caused when the church initially refused to believe, sought to contest their concerns or looked to refer the complaint elsewhere and failed to recognise it, Tautari said.

"We apologise for the callousness of such treatment. It was wrong and should not have happened.''

The church did not have safeguarding policies and processes in place and this led to suffering of some children, young people and vulnerable adults, she said.

"In some cases, the abusers were employees of church related institutions, in others, the abusers were clergy members. In some cases, the abusers were students at our college.

"In each case, there is no excuse for any abusive behaviour or harm inflicted on innocent people."

Abuse had no place in the church, Tautari said.

''We apologise unequivocally to all those survivors.''

Tautari told the Royal Commission that violence was a daily experience for students at Wesley College.

At Wesley, there was an ingrained concept of the Wesley Way, meaning no narking or snitching. Some witnesses had earlier told the inquiry it made them the way they are today and it was not that bad.

Tautari said it was not what the church understood to be the Wesley Way.

''The Wesley Way as it is now used has undertones of coercion and abuse in order to belong and that is unacceptable.''

It was difficult having the name of the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, associated with horrific abuse, she said.

''That term distorted in such a way [to have] been appropriated to mean this type of abuse. It has come to mean the subjection of young people and that is categorically unacceptable to the church. It cannot continue.''