Catholic bishops say abhorrent abuse at Marylands and Hebron Trust should never have happened

The nature and scale of abuse set out in the report, released 2 August 2023, from the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care is abhorrent and should never have happened, says Archbishop Paul Martin sm, General Secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry Into Abuse in Care report outlined sexual, physical and spiritual violence at Marylands School and Hebron Trust, saying it was aware of no other institution where sexual abuse was so extreme.

WelCom September 2023

The Royal Commission of Inquiry’s case study report into abuse in the care of the Brothers of St John of God at Marylands School and Hebron Trust in Christchurch, was released on 2 August 2023. This case study is one of two the commission is publishing, and the only one concerning a Catholic or faith-based organisation. The other was the Lake Alice report published last December. This Royal Commission is an independent inquiry into abuse in state care and in the care of faith-based institutions in  Aotearoa New Zealand.

The nature and scale of abuse set out in the report, released 2 August 2023, from the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care is abhorrent and should never have happened, says Archbishop Paul Martin sm, General Secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

‘We recognise the way those working in the name of the Catholic Church caused harm, and the enormous impact this has had on the lives of victims and their families,’ said Archbishop Martin, on behalf of the bishops.

Archbishop Martin, the Archbishop of Wellington and former Bishop of Christchurch, was commenting on the Royal Commission’s case study into abuse in the care of the Brothers of St John of God based at Marylands School in Halswell, Christchurch from the 1950s to the 1980s and at the Hebron Trust in Christchurch from 1986 to 1992. 

Archbishop Martin gave evidence on behalf of the Diocese of Christchurch at the Royal Commission’s Marylands-Hebron hearings in February last year.

‘Today’s [2 August] case-study report highlights the horrific abuse and suffering that took place, and the failure of individuals to ensure safety and manage redress adequately,’ he said. ‘Confronting these realities is a significant and necessary step as we all continue to transform the way we manage redress and ensure the safety of everyone in a Church environment. 

‘The abuse described should never have happened. Nor should any abuse happen. I want to restate categorically that the bishops of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand have zero tolerance for abuse. No form of abuse, misconduct or inappropriate behaviour is acceptable in the Church community. 

‘The Church must continue to confront the difficult truths of the past, including the inexcusable abuse and suffering described in the case study report.’

Archbishop Martin says the Catholic Church began putting formal procedures in place to respond to abuse in the 1990s.They have been subject to continual improvement since. 

‘Everyone working in the Church is required to adhere to them,’ he says.

‘We must continue to monitor and improve the practices put in place throughout the Church to prevent harm, as well as supporting survivors of abuse. We know there is more we need to do and we are committed to doing it.’

In a letter to the Archdiocese of Wellington, Archbishop Martin encourages all who lead or have particular roles within the Church or Church-based organisations to do everything possible to be up-to-date on safeguarding policies and practices the archdiocese now follows.

‘We do not tolerate any abuse,’ he writes. ‘We want our Church to be a place where people are safe, receive support and are able to worship and praise God. Sadly this has not always been the case. We have to own our past, do what we can to help those who were not treated the way they should have been, and ensure that we are as safe as possible for all people into the future.

‘We have been trying to work on this for the last 30 years. We know that we still have more to learn from the experiences of those who were abused and it was one of the reasons why the Church asked to be part of the inquiry by the Royal Commission. We want to be better at supporting those who have been abused while in our care and we want to ensure that we do everything possible to keep people safe. 

‘Jesus Christ came with the Good News and to show us what God is like. He came to a sinful world and what we are confronting here is the reality of that sin. One of the terrible consequences of the abuse of those in our care is that so often it affected their relationship with God too, because people who were supposed to be people of God were doing these things to vulnerable people. 

‘We also have to ensure that there is justice for those who have been harmed in this way and that those who have offended in this manner are not able to do so again. 

‘The sexual abuse of people, children and adults, within our Church community is part of our history. We cannot change the past but we can make sure that we make the present and future better for all in this area. 

‘May we support one another and continue to do all we can for those who have been affected by abuse,’ Archbishop Martin wrote.

In a pastoral letter the Bishop of Christchurch Michael Gielen wrote, ‘Just as we improve safeguarding and confront our history, so we must also assist those who have been harmed. We are committed to supporting victims of abuse. To this end, I urge victims who have not yet come forward to do so. Please contact the Police or the Church’s National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS).

Bishop Gielen concluded his letter echoing the words of Pope Francis who, in 2018, said: 

‘Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.’

Marylands was a residential school primarily for boys with learning disabilities. The school, run by the Brothers of St John of God from 1955, was taken over in 1984 by the Ministry of Education. By then, claims of abuse were already coming in, the Royal Commission of Inquiry Into Abuse in Care report said, but were ignored. The Hebron Trust, also run by the Brothers of St John of God, was described by the inquiry as ‘a residential programme in Christchurch from 1986 to 1993 for youth in need of safety, shelter and support, including “street kids”. 

The Order of the Brothers of St John of God, no longer operates any works in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Ownership and management of the facilities and works referenced in the case study report are now closed, or transferred to the state, or have been transferred to other entities.

The link to the Catholic Bishops’ website section on confronting abuse is:

To report or make a complaint about abuse, please contact the National Office of Professional Standards (NOPS) on or 0800 114 622.

Te Kupenga–Catholic Leadership Institute runs a national safeguarding course called ‘Safeguarding in the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand’ (SCCANZ). This course is part of the Church’s provision of training under the National Safeguarding Guidelines. Details:

All staff working in New Zealand’s Catholic dioceses are required to undertake mandatory safeguarding training. Safeguarding practices have become the norm in society for organisations that deal with children and vulnerable adults. It is about keeping everyone safe from harm, trauma and abuse, whether it be emotional, physical, or sexual. We are all responsible for developing safe practices at all levels within the Catholic Church.