Auckland Catholic Cathedral’s former choir director’s abusive past

James Tibbles

Auckland’s St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral was unaware that its former choir director’s abusive past had led him to resign from two previous jobs.

James Tibbles, a well-known early music specialist, was the choir director and organist at St Patrick’s from 2014 until last December.

At that time the church said he had resigned “to pursue other musical opportunities”.

A mass was held to farewell Tibbles in January before he moved to Oxford in Canterbury.

However, it emerged on Sunday this week that besides resigning from his role at the Cathedral, Tibbles had also resigned from his position at The University of Auckland last December 2020.

His resignation from the university came amid an investigation into a sexual conduct complaint from a former student.

A similar allegation was made during his time teaching music at Auckland’s St Cuthbert’s College more than 20 years ago.

The complainant was 16 at the time of the alleged incidents.

Auckland Catholic Diocese spokeswoman Dame Lyndsay Freer says the cathedral was not aware of any complaints been made about Tibbles in any previous roles or employment.

She says he came with excellent references and records of his musicianship and experience.

“No complaints were ever received about him during his tenure at the cathedral,” she says.

He had resigned in December 2020 “to pursue other musical opportunities”, Freer said.

The former choir director’s troubles first came to light back in 1998, when the parents of a 16-year-old St Cuthbert’s College student complained of his inappropriate conduct. Tibbles was the girl’s music teacher.

He was suspended, then resigned, but faced no further repercussions.

He went on to work at the University of Auckland.

Last December, Tibbles – who was head of the university’s music department – resigned following similar allegations from a former student.

IHe has admitted to the former university student that the “relationship was fundamentally inappropriate and damaging”.

“I have made mistakes in my past and now know that my mistakes have hurt people. That was never my intention, and I am deeply sorry.

“I do not believe it is appropriate for me to discuss these matters in detail. To do so would breach confidences in relation to matters that are deeply personal to me and others. Having recognised my mistakes, I have retired from music teaching.”

St Cuthbert’s former principal Lynda Reid, says the school has now publicly apologised to her former student. In retrospect, the original investigation into the allegations was “not good enough”, she says.

“Today, I can assure you that we have robust child protection policies in place to support the safety of our students, and if this situation arose now, we would handle allegations of this nature very differently,” she says.

“We would immediately notify the appropriate authorities and ensure the ongoing care and safety of the student concerned.

“Please be assured, the wellbeing of our students is our absolute priority, and we are committed to ensuring that they are able to recognise and call out inappropriate sexual behaviour in any context and would be supported when they did.”


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