20 Aug 2019

Royal Commission hearing: Churches consider dropping confidentiality agreements

12:43 pm on 20 August 2019

The Catholic and Anglican churches are considering quashing confidentiality agreements preventing abuse survivors from giving evidence to the inquiry investigating historical abuse in care.

hands holding rosary beads

Photo: 123RF

Last week, the Crown announced it was lifting confidentiality obligations and at the inquiry's procedural hearing in Auckland this morning, the Salvation Army followed suit.

The Royal Commission, which is investigating abuse between 1950 and 1999, will start hearing evidence from survivors and others in just a few months' time.

It's the biggest Royal Commission in New Zealand's history, but confidentiality agreements may stop it from speaking to those at the heart of its work.

One commissioner, Judge Coral Shaw, said such settlements prevented them from doing their job.

"Survivors' voices are at the heart of the inquiry and so anything that is a barrier to survivors telling us their story hinders our work, quite frankly, and we badly need to hear from everybody."

The Royal Commission asked both the Catholic and Anglican churches to waive any agreements earlier this year, but they had yet to do so.

The Crown and the Salvation Army, have already fulfilled the request.

At today's hearing, both the Anglican and Catholic churches confirmed to RNZ they were considering it.

Judge Shaw said she hoped the churches lifted the agreements, so survivors could speak freely.

"So, the time frame is not so important, but I think for the sake of the survivors we need very much to get those waivers in place as soon as possible."

Today the commissioners met with those groups and individuals to discuss procedural matters ahead of the hearing in October. Preliminary hearings will be held before every public session, which are expected to take place every three months.

The Anglican and Catholic churches were represented by lawyers, as were the Salvation Army and the Crown.

Like all other organisations, Sally McKenchie, the lawyer representing the Catholic church, expressed a willingness to work with the Inquiry.

"We appreciate it will be very difficult for many survivors to come before you and we acknowledge their bravery, and courage and participation, and we acknowledge them and the harms that have been done for those who should have been cared for by the church.

"The Catholic Church will come before you, in the spirit of cooperation and transparency."

A survivor advocate, Annette Sykes, was also there.

"It's a beautiful day today and I always take the weather as a sign of something like this, where is it going? And I think we need to say that the universe is telling us that we're beginning a moment in history in this country, an important moment in history.

"It's a huge opportunity and the sun is shining on Aotearoa to remember all of the beauty that it is and all the beauty that we want for all of the members of our society."

The Anglican and Catholic churches, Salvation Army, the Crown and survivor advocates are set to appear at the October hearing.

It is expected to run for about a week.

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