Royal Commission chair speaks of push back from churches


Lawyers for New Zealand Churches and a Catholic bishop acting in a private capacity tried to push back on the scope of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in care, says the Royal Commission chair.

The move infuriated a survivors’ group so much it has pulled out.

This is a “final blow” to an ineffectual and re-traumatising inquiry, says the Network for Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions.

It is advising people not to give evidence.

The Commission says it won’t change its very wide scope – but the damage has been done, some survivors say.

It is currently gathering evidence ahead of a hearing into churches, including the Catholic, Anglican and Salvation Army.

The resistance the Commission has faced was revealed by the chair Judge Coral Shaw (pictured) to the survivors’ network.

She told them “Tenacious lawyers acting for the churches are constantly bringing up issues and trying to bat them back to us, and starting to second guess.”

After RNZ repeatedly asked which churches the Commission was referring to, it mentioned lawyers working for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and an unnamed Catholic bishop “acting in an individual capacity”.

The pushback was focused on the breadth of the inquiry and its request for information about pastoral care where abuse may have happened. This includes counselling, training or mentoring involving children and young people.

“This is one of the pushbacks,” Shaw told the survivors’ network.

“They start to ask questions about the ambit of it.”

Ultimately, only two submissions were made, and neither called for a change in scope.

The network would seek accountability even if that was at times “uncomfortable for some institutions”.

The survivors’ network says the Commission should have rejected pushback immediately.

It’s urging the government to get on with ordering redress for the abuse.

The government has told the Commission it has until mid-2023 and must manage on its original budget of $190m. It has $106m left.

About 2500 survivors have registered so far, many thousands fewer than expected by this time.

The survivors’ network says unlike the Australian inquiry into abuse, this one has not produced the required research and case studies.

The Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests says the inquiry has improved and it is “paramount” survivors kept giving evidence.

However, its leader Christopher Longhurst says the Commission did not tell him church lawyers were telling it “what to do and how to respond. This needs to stop”, he said. Pastoral care must be investigated thoroughly.

The Anglican Church says it has only ever sought clarification and tried to do that collaboratively.

It says neither the church nor its lawyers have tried to pressure the Commission or narrow the scope of its investigation.

When RNZ asked the Catholic church about the bishop. Its response was:

“Your questions appear to relate to persons acting in a private capacity. We cannot comment on private matters unrelated to the work of Te Rōpū Tautoko”, which is the church agency that works with the Commission.

The Salvation Army said its lawyers sought clarification from the Commission. It says it has never asked for a change in scope.


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