Abuse allegations were levelled at nearly one in five Dunedin Catholic priests since 1950, the church has revealed.

New research has been published by Te Ropu Tautoko, the group that co-ordinates Catholic Church engagement with the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care.

It revealed 26 priests, 18% of the 131 who served in the Dunedin Diocese since 1950, have been subject to complaints.

Proportionally, it was the fourth highest number in the country.

Of the 39 complaints against members of the diocese, 20 were allegations of sexual abuse against children.

The Otago Daily Times has reported extensively on several allegations of faith-based abuse in Dunedin.

In March, the church announced Dunedin’s Kavanagh College would be renamed after an investigation found its namesake, former Catholic Bishop of Dunedin John Kavanagh, failed to take appropriate action over abuse claims.

Male Survivors Otago manager Michael Chamberlain said the statistics showed the high level of abuse in Dunedin, and it was prevalent in most teaching orders.

However, he believed the actual number of complaints would be higher, as records had been destroyed in some instances.

The research showed 1680 reports of abuse, by 1122 individuals, were made to the Church between 1950 and 2021. They were against clergy, brothers, nuns, sisters and lay people.

The church said 592 alleged abusers were named. Almost half of the reported abuse was sexual.

It said three-quarters of the abuse occurred before 1990, with the majority in the 1960s and ’70s.

The five Catholic entities with the highest proportion of members named in allegations were the St John of God brothers (22 brothers, 52% of the 42 who served in New Zealand from 1950 to date); Sisters of Nazareth (29 sisters, 34% of the 86 who served); Diocese of Christchurch (34 priests, 19% of the 179 who served); Diocese of Dunedin (26 priests, 18% of the 131 who served); and Good Shepherd Sisters (20 sisters, or 18% of the 114 who served).

Te Ropu Tautoko chairwoman Catherine Fyfe said by publishing the information now, it was hoped they could look behind the statistics and ask how the abuse occurred and why.

“Most importantly, we must ensure that people are safe in the care of the Catholic Church today and that survivors are supported when they come forward.”

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Cardinal John Dew acknowledged there were significant barriers to people coming forward to the Church to disclose abuse.

“While much work has been done to overcome this, and people have come forward, we are committed to doing all we can to reduce currently existing barriers and ensure survivors are supported as they share their traumatic experiences.”

The research is part of an ongoing information gathering project that, as well as being provided to the Royal Commission, will help Church leaders with safeguarding policies and with redress processes for abuse survivors.

The latest analysis focuses on records of abuse where an alleged abuser was named, and so excludes reported allegations where an alleged abuser could not be identified.

Abuse complaints

Dunedin Catholic Diocese complaints

Sexual harm against a child: 20

Sexual harm against an adult: 7

Sexual harm, age unknown: 5

Other abuse, age unknown: 3

Abuse type unclear: 4

By Daisy Hudson
Published in Otago Daily Times