14 Jan 2023

Catholic Church doing opposite of public statements on abuse safeguarding - advocate

1:19 pm on 14 January 2023
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Aotearoa leader, Dr Chris Longhurst

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Aotearoa leader Dr Chris Longhurst. Photo: Supplied/SNAP

The leader of a network for survivors abused by priests says the Catholic Church's new promises to change are not genuine.

Earlier this week a 10-point statement was issued by NZ Catholic Bishops Conference president Cardinal John Dew, and Congregational Leaders Conference of Aotearoa president, Fr Thomas Rouse.

It supported independent entities to process complaints of abuse and give redress to survivors, and it requested that Catholic organisations audit any names they have adopted in titles for buildings, prizes and portraits, to ensure they were not named after abusers, or people who had turned a blind eye to abuse.

"It is our expectation and requirement that every person working in the church, paid or voluntary, will adhere to the policies and procedures that have been established to foster a culture of safeguarding and support of survivors," the statement said.

"As a church, we remain committed to break the cycle of abuse."

But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Aotearoa leader, Dr Chris Longhurst, told RNZ: "What the bishops and the congregational leaders of the Catholic Church are saying in public is not what's happening behind closed doors."

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

NZ Catholic Bishops Conference president Cardinal John Dew. Photo: Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care

A survivor of abuse in the Catholic Church himself, Longhurst said, for survivors, "these kinds of statements [from the church leaders] are not helpful".

"They're coming across as simply public relations statements... From our point of view, they're not credible. If they reached out to survivors, and spoke to us and listened to us, rather than just saying they are doing that, then that would be more credible."

The Catholic leaders' commitments also said: "Significant work needs to be undertaken as to how, when and to whom reports are made. [And] exemptions will need to be made for some settings to protect legal, confessional, and therapeutic privilege."

Longhurst said: "This is nonsense. This is what upsets us, because you can't have your cake and eat it too."

In his opinion, "for Catholic Church leaders to say they support mandatory reporting with exemptions, is a contradiction".

Longhurst said in the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Abuse in Care: "Survivor evidence demonstrates continued denial and cover up, diversion, a lack of accountability and no openness or transparency around process."

Longhust said many survivors do not even get a response to their complaints, and he had lost all hope the church would deliver on its promises.

In response, Father Tom Rouse and Cardinal John Dew said they acknowledged the criticisms.

"As we said in our 10 January statement, we are committed to do much better in responding to survivors and ensuring a safe church."

They said the bishops' and congregational leaders' "roadmap" had been updated, to reflect the church's new commitments.

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