Sunday, November 28

Attention Abuse: President Claims Church Attorneys Delayed Scope of Investigation

The chairman of the Royal Commission of Inquiry says lawyers for the church and a Catholic bishop rejected the scope of the investigation.

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In response, the commission called for submissions on the issue, which infuriated a group of survivors so much that they withdrew, calling this a “final blow” to an ineffective and re-traumatic investigation.

The Network for Survivors of Abuse in Religious Institutions is now advising people not to give testimony, a stance criticized by some other survivors.

The commission says it is “resolved” and will not change its broad scope, but the damage has already been done, some survivors say.

This comes at a time when the three-year investigation has been forced to undergo a restart because the government rejected its offer for a longer time and for a total budget of nearly $ 500 million.

‘Tenacious lawyers’

Currently, the investigation is gathering more evidence before a hearing in churches that include Catholics, Anglicans and the Salvation Army.

The resistance he has faced was revealed by Presidential Judge Coral Shaw to the survivor network in a recent closed-door meeting:

“Tenacious attorneys acting on behalf of the churches are constantly raising issues and trying to get them back, and they’re starting to guess,” he said.

“I think as rubber is hitting the road, as more and more research is done, they are starting to get a little nervous about this, so they are backing off.”

RNZ repeatedly asked the commission to identify the churches.

Finally, he said that they were lawyers working for Jehovah’s Witnesses and for a Catholic bishop who “acted in an individual capacity.”

The denial focused on the scope of the investigation and her request for more information on pastoral care where the abuse may have occurred. This includes during counseling, training or mentoring involving children and youth.

“This is one of the rejections,” Shaw told the survivor network.

“They start asking questions about the scope of it.”

In the end, only two submissions were made and neither asked for a change in scope, the commission told RNZ.

He would go ahead to seek accountability even if that was sometimes “uncomfortable for some institutions.”

‘Morally reprehensible’

However, this has come too late for the network member, Alexandra Murray from Perth, who gave evidence of abuse by nuns in orphanages in this country and in foster homes.

“They are trying to renege on the terms of reference and they are going to … re-traumatize us,” he said.

“More pain awaits me, pain for life.”

Alexandra Murray.

Alexandra Murray.
Photo: Supplied

The survivor network said the commission should have roundly rejected the church’s rejection.

“It is no longer ethical, and it would be morally reprehensible, for us to continue to encourage survivors to participate in this commission and suffer further trauma,” the network told members.

Urge the government to continue to order redress for the abuse.

A second member of the network, Megan Marshall, said: “Can people really start to be honestly responsible and offer us a realistic and acceptable apology?”

“I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go to the Royal Commission, which bothers me because I had the hope and faith that, you know, this process would get us somewhere.”

Asking 344 million dollars

The government and Treasury recently told the investigation to move forward.

They said ‘no’ when the investigation called for completion in 2025, and for an additional $ 344 million, to bring the total budget to $ 435 million.

Instead, it lasts until mid-2023 and a total budget less than half, $ 190 million, of which $ 106 million remain.

About 2,500 survivors have been registered so far, many thousands less than expected at this time.

The investigation has touted the “wellness support” and follow-up it provides to survivors, but Murray said he has had none except an offer for a massage from someone in Auckland who emailed him in Perth.

“She obviously didn’t check where he lived.”

Marshall said her commission-provided adviser quickly released her.

“It’s been traumatic … they thank you and that’s it,” Marshall said.

“Can we trust them? I can’t,” Murray said.

“They’ve screwed it up, and they screwed it up big time. It’s an absolutely chaotic and bloody debacle.”

The survivor network said that, unlike the Australian abuse investigation, it has not produced the required investigation and case studies.

He has written to the ministers asking them to proceed with reparation.

Others condemn his position.

The Network of Survivors of Abused by Priests said that the investigation had improved a lot and that it was “paramount” that survivors continue to test.

However, its leader Christopher Longhurst was upset that the commission did not explain what was happening.

It appeared that church attorneys were “telling the Royal Commission what to do and how to respond. This must end,” he said.

Pastoral care had to be thoroughly investigated, Longhurst said.

Jim Goodwin, an independent faith-based survivor at a commission advisory group, praised his work, saying the decision to disconnect was “not a good thing.”

“They run the risk of losing the opportunity to be heard, to have the opportunity to tell their story and get some justice for themselves,” Goodwin said.

Jim Goodwin.

Jim Goodwin.
Photo: Supplied

The Anglican Church told RNZ that it has only sought clarification and has tried to do so collaboratively.

The church “and its lawyers have not exerted pressure on the Royal Commission and they have certainly not sought to narrow the scope of their investigation,” he said.

RNZ asked the Catholic Church about the bishop. It said: “Your questions appear to be related to individuals acting in a private capacity. We cannot comment on private matters unrelated to the work of Te Rōpū Tautoko,” the church agency that works with the commission.

The Salvation Army said its lawyers asked the commission for clarification when it requested more information to expand the scope of the investigation, and it is now compiling that, but has never asked for a change in scope.

This month, the commission gave its initial recommendations on reparations to the government, which will be made public in December.

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