NEW ZEALAND: A New Zealand-based organization that advocates for victims of child sexual abuse claim that the Catholic Church’s reparations procedure is being mishandled. They have pleaded with Pope Francis to step in and prevent the traumatization of the victims.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a global organization for child abuse victims, accused church officials in New Zealand of violating protocols for handling abuse allegation cases in a letter submitted to the Vatican.
In his letter to the Pope, Christopher Longhurst, the National Leader for SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand, lamented that “most regrettably, we are being injured by the same Church agency set up to give healing.”
In the letter, Longhurst said that while the local Catholic church’s officials showed an “open hand to the possibility of healing” in public, they traumatized survivors again in private by disobeying their own policies.
Longhurst wrote in the letter submitted to the Vatican last Friday, “Given the lack of a true and honest road to reconciliation in New Zealand’s Catholic Church, we would like to beg for Your Holiness to intercede.” It was unclear if the pope, who gets hundreds of letters via ordinary mail each day, had already seen it.
According to Longhurst, the improper handling included stalling and divergence, a general lack of compassion, and the denial of an adequate investigative procedure and a fair evaluation of the process.
To assist abuse survivors, church authorities in New Zealand stated that they were constantly updating and upgrading the complaints and disclosure systems.
The letter to the pope coincides with an ongoing public investigation into physical and sexual abuse at religious and government-run institutions in New Zealand, which found in 2020 that up to a quarter of a million children, adolescents, and helpless adults had been abused over the previous few decades. A substantial percentage of the victims were indigenous Maori.
The National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS), responsible for overseeing Te Houhanga Rongo (A Path To Healing), a redress mechanism in response to abuse reports, was the object of SNAP’s complaints.
Bishops and congregational leaders have listened to survivors through the inquiry hearings, according to the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, which founded NOPS.
According to Bishop Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Auckland and Secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, “The Church leadership is continuously updating and improving the complaints and disclosure processes to help survivors of abuse and will continue to engage actively on improvements throughout the remaining time of the Royal Commission and beyond the Royal Commission’s scheduled completion in 2023.”
A report written for the commission found that, between 1950 and 2021, 1,680 instances of alleged abuse by church organizations satisfied the committee’s definition of abuse. About 470 people have received pastoral or ex-gratia payments totalling $16.8 million (NZD) from Catholic Church organizations but others claimed that not enough is being done.
Sonja Cooper, the Principal Lawyer and Partner at Wellington-based Cooper Legal, which is presently managing more than 2,000 instances of child abuse victims involving public and private institutions, claimed she had not noticed any changes in how the procedure is carried out.
Cooper said, “It’s not a procedure that exercises any natural justice, and if they can find anything to make a judgement that is against the victim, they will,” adding that the interview process often involved ex-police officers, which was highly troubling for many survivors.
Despite paying billions in damages and calling for an all-out campaign against clergy child abuse, the Catholic Church has come under fire for its slow response to decades of crises worldwide.