The Salvation Army has apologised for the historical abuse of people in its care.

Published in Radio New Zealand

The army gave evidence today at the Abuse in Care inquiry being held in Auckland.

Over the next two weeks churches have the chance to speak about how they handled abuse cases and what support they gave survivors.

Salvation Army chief secretary in New Zealand Gerry Walker expanded on what the group said at the Royal Commission’s redress hearing in November and December 2020, which focused on the experiences of abuse survivors.

“I would like to reiterate on behalf of the whole Salvation Army our deep regret and shame.”

He said the army unreservedly apologised for any wrongdoing and was committed to working with survivors to address, in the best way it could, what had happened.

“Back in 2003 the then Territorial Commander for the Salvation Army stated clearly that we would not duck and weave and we would be intentional about engaging with survivors in an appropriate way that was respectful of them. We have attempted to do that over the last 18 years.”

Walker also apologised for not getting written apologies to survivors right and admitted the Salvation Army did not have a formal policy on redress.

“It is something I’m certainly wanting to put in place.”

Walker had a message for survivors who had not yet come forward or already had but still needed assistance.

“I would says to survivors please engage with us, come and see us, talk to us. If there’s anything else we can help you with, we want to sit down and explore that.”

Salvation Army’s lawyer Jenny Stevens said when it first started to receive complaints of historical abuse back in the early 2000s the response was not what it should have been.

She said this particularly related to Janet Lowe, who was one of the first to lodge a complaint, which covered her time in a children’s home.

“At the time when her claim was received there was shock within the army and there was admittedly disbelief about what she was saying had occurred.”

She said because of the threat of civil legal action insurers were called and lawyers were instructed.

“Harsh, legalistic and uncaring letters were sent.”

The Royal Commission public hearing started on Monday with an impassioned plea from a survivor group.

The Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions said that how the churches responded during the hearing would determine if their responses were life affirming or life destroying.

Network spokesperson Liz Tonks said the hearing would be the ultimate test of whether churches would put survivors ahead of their perpetrators.

“No survivor should ever experience the re-trauma they have of being required to report their abuse, have it investigated and negotiate redress with the institutions that failed to keep them safe.”

Network spokesperson Murray Heasley left the Commission in no doubt about how he wanted the next two weeks of the hearing to run.

“We trust you will hold these church institutions accountable,” he said.

“We ask that you not be tempted to engage with them in debate of their rationalisations about their historic response or accept their proposals for tinkering with their systems like deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Heasley said that while the public hearing was focusing on the Salvation Army, Anglican Church and Catholic Church, others were not exempt from the same devastating harm to people who were abused in their care.

“Gloriavale, the Jehovah Witnesses, Presbyterian, Hindu, Islam, Latter Day Saints, Methodist, Sikh, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jewish abuse survivors. To name just 12 churches or institutions … Commissioners, the government and the public of New Zealand – survivors have spoken, we have heard their testimony. They have provided evidence of what is urgently needed. There is no going back.”

The Salvation Army will return to the hearing on Tuesday, to be followed by the Anglican Church and it is the turn of the Catholic Church the week after.

By Andrew McRae
Published in Radio New Zealand
15 Mar 2021