The Marist Brothers and Fathers have educated prime ministers, judges, cardinals and All Blacks at their Catholic high schools. But their record of sexual abuse is horrific.

Photo: Chris McKeen/Stuff

For 40 years, Jerry Cataki was silent.

But when he spoke up last year about the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of two New Zealand religious brothers at his primary school in Suva, Fiji, he was offered just a fraction of the compensation a Kiwi survivor would receive.

A leading survivors’ advocate says Cataki’s treatment by the Marist Brothers is plain racism – and also highlights their fear that a tidal wave of victims of abuse in the Pacific Islands is coming.

Cataki was inspired to speak up by Stuff’s story last year which detailed how Marist Brothers Bertrand Hodgkins and Terence Payne had abused brothers John and Felix Fremlin when they were students at Marist Brothers Primary in the 1980s.

Cataki was also abused by Hodgkins and Payne – long-serving teachers in Fiji – and his abuse was severe and sustained.

New Zealanders who have suffered similarly horrific abuse by the Marist Brothers have been paid about $15,000 to $20,000 – but Cataki was initially offered just $F5000 by Marist Brothers Fiji Trust Board secretary Fergus Garrett, then $F7500 and then a “final and exceptional” offer of $F10,000 – which equates to just $7700 in New Zealand currency. That process took over six months.

”According to Brother Fergus, my abuse was the lowest level of abuse… I said to him that the severity of the abuse warrants a good offer to help me through,” said Cataki. “They feel Fijians are not very vocal like the New Zealand people about their abuse: traditionally we don’t talk about this.”

He believes the abuse had led to relationship breakdowns and regular changes of employer. “All that time I kept it to myself and… that hurt was lingering around. The main factor was the hurt from the abuse long ago that I had never told anyone about.”

Murray Heasley, spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Faith Based Abuse and their Supporters, has acted as an advisor to Jerry Cataki and the Fremlin brothers. He said Cataki’s payout should be much larger. “These [abusers] are New Zealanders sent to Fiji, and New Zealand is responsible for these assaults and should take responsibility,” he said.

“They should be paid on the New Zealand scale, otherwise it is the most appalling kind of racial profiling and denial of fundamental human rights based on what? The fact they are brown?”

Heasley said the Marists were “terrified” more survivors would step forward. In a letter to Heasley last year, the Marist Brothers admitted they were worried any settlement could generate “unrealistic expectations of ex-gratia [payments] for the wider church in Fiji”.

Stuff is aware of another survivor of abuse by Hodgkins and Payne who is considering laying a complaint.

Felix Fremlin, who was the first Fijian survivor to go public, says he has spoken to another seven survivors of Catholic abuse who are too afraid to report their cases due to cultural pressure to stay silent.

The Marists were among various Christian religious orders to dispatch missionaries around the Pacific to teach and evangelise. Their Pacific division is headquartered in Auckland, with branches in Kiribati, Samoa, American Samoa and Fiji, where they’ve been sending brothers since 1888 and own four schools and a kindergarten.

Payne and Hodgkins – both now deceased – held senior teaching roles, and Hodgkins in particular was a prominent figure in Fiji: the founding Master of Discipline at the school in 1963, he was a leading football coach, coaching both Suva and Fiji, was appointed a life member of the Suva Soccer Association, and was a St John’s volunteer, rising to the rank of deputy commissioner.

Stuff’s series, A Secret History, last year detailed the Marists’ horrific record of sexual abuse in New Zealand. But the Fijian survivors are the first overseas victims to step forward. An expert on church sexual abuse, Fr Thomas Doyle, says this fits a worldwide pattern where survivors in developing nations are slower to come forward because of a prevailing cultural pressure to stay silent.

Fijian survivors have been told to deal with Fergus Garrett, the 88-year-old secretary of the Fijian Marist Trust Board and one of two remaining Brothers in Fiji.

Garrett was a colleague of Hodgkins and Payne and wrote in glowing terms of them in his published history of the Brothers in Fiji, praising Hodgkins’ affinity with small children: “Many small boys appreciated a hand to hold when parents were late for coming to pick them up. Bertrand was always there to befriend them.”

Cataki said he did not want to deal with Garrett, given that he had been a friend and colleague of both men for many years. “Why would I want to engage with this institution?” he added.

The Marists are also still dealing with Felix and John Fremlin, who were given what they consider to be emergency payments of F$15,000 but are seeking more substantial settlements for abuse they say has deeply affected their lives.

Felix refused to sign a document presented by the Marists agreeing that his settlement was full and final. He says even seeing children can trigger flashbacks, and he would like to find a rural property and live in solitude. He has calculated what he would earn at the minimum wage for a builder in Fiji until retirement and wrote to the Marists asking them to pay him that amount – about $NZ160,000 – as a settlement.

“If they pay me the lump sum, I would go to the bush and then stay away from everyone else. If they refuse to pay I will take out newspaper adverts for more victims to come forward and claim compensation… [Until now] others have been reluctant because they’ve seen the way the church is treating me.”

In reply, Garrett said: “Your ‘reasonable amount’ is almost a quarter of a million Fiji dollars, or about 10 years’ wages for a skilled worker. There is no way the Brothers could offer such a sum.”

John Fremlin said his payment was “not enough – this is a lifetime for us. I feel like we’ve been treated differently.” He had recently left Fiji for Australia. “In Fiji, it is in my head all the time.”

Garrett told Felix Fremlin that the Marist Brothers’ assets in New Zealand are “not available” to the Fijian Marist Brothers. When Stuff analysed those New Zealand assets last year, they had $10m in the bank, $19.8m in an investment portfolio and $104m in property assets.

Felix Fremlin said he had been told by someone involved in the Fijian church that he was doing more harm than good because his intervention could mean the departure of the European branches of the church. He said counselling offered by the Marists had been worthless as the counsellor had failed to turn up to his second appointment.

He has suffered depression and serious heart issues since speaking to Stuff last year, when he said: “I want people to know that what happened there [in New Zealand] also happened here.”

Marist Brothers delegate Peter Horide did not directly address questions about Jerry Cataki’s case, but in a written statement said they “unreservedly apologise for the pain and trauma that was experienced by the students who were abused by Brothers. The offending by some members of the Marist Brothers’ order was morally wrong and shameful, and totally contrary to our Christian beliefs.”

He said their process was for complaints to be locally handled and a “survivor’s pathway of healing is unique to that person. Each person’s unique and complex situation is taken into account throughout the redress process.” He said they welcomed more survivors coming forward.

The archbishop of Fiji, Peter Loy Chong, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care, which is reporting into institutional sexual abuse, is due this year to set compensation guidelines and said it could not comment but in an interim report it indicated it wanted an independent redress scheme established.

By Steve Kilgallon
Published in Stuff