Royal Commission into abuse in state care

Published on 4th Nov, 2018

Bishop Charles Drennan

Sexual Abuse is a particularly abhorrent form of exploitation. Government figures recently released show that in New Zealand last year there were over a thousand [recorded] cases of child sex abuse. In England and Wales figures just released for the year 2016 to 2017, record 6613 cases of sexual abuse among 4 to 8 year olds and over 60,000 cases among all minors. Media attention to this current scourge in our world is minimal.

Much media attention is being given however to the Royal Commission into historical sexual abuse. There is no doubt the Commission’s findings will present before our society some very ugly chapters of New Zealand’s past.

The Church is co-operating fully and pro-actively with the Commission. We all want to make our country a safer place for everyone. While the Commission will have a focus on institutions long since closed, what is of vital importance is that individuals can tell the stories of their experience in such places (and indeed anywhere). That is why we have urged the Government to broaden the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry to include all individuals who were sexually abused as children.

Listening to stories of the past will help us to strengthen safeguarding in the present. As a community of faith, we want our safeguarding to be effective, integral, and exemplary.

A Catholic tautoko, or support group, has been formed to co-ordinate our participation and co-operation with the Royal Commission. It comprises some heads of Religious Orders, myself, and laity – tangata whenua and Pākehā. It is chaired by Catherine Fyfe. Its work sits alongside the Office for Professional Standards and Safeguarding, which has been in existence for some decades.

There is a huge challenge for each and every one of us to ensure that the upcoming generation of Kiwis can grow up, live, work and socialise in a society that upholds the dignity of all. This requires a cultural change, which sees individuals as integral human beings nurtured in families and communities. Abuse and sexualisation of individuals, or any other form of exploitation, need have no place in our society if we promote and expect true care for all.


On February 1, 2018 Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse.

Catherine Fyfe

The New Zealand Government has established the Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care in recognition of calls over a number of years from many individuals and community groups for an independent inquiry into abuse in state care in New Zealand.

At the date of my writing this article [26 October 2018], the Government has yet to confirm the Terms of Reference for the Commission or explain how it will operate.

The New Zealand Catholic bishops and the heads of all religious congregations have called for the terms of reference for the Commission to be as broad as possible to ensure the Church is included.

Their representative bodies, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference – Te Huinga o ngā Pihopa Katorika o Aotearoa (NZCBC), and the Congregational Leaders’ Conference Aotearoa New Zealand – (CLCANZ), have appointed a new group to ensure the Catholic Church provides a co-ordinated and co-operative response to the Commission from all the many dioceses, congregations and institutions of the Church in this country.

The new group is called Te Rōpū Tautoko.

I have been appointed as chair and joining me on the group are:

  • Bishop Charles Drennan from the Diocese of Palmerston North;
  • Sr Katrina Fabish from the Sisters of Mercy;
  • Deacon Danny Karatea-Goddard from the NZCBC Secretariat;
  • Fr David Kennerley from the Society of Mary;
  • Br David McDonald from the Marist Brothers; and
  • Sr Jane O’Carroll from the Marist Sisters.

Our aim is quite simple – to support the Royal Commission.

This group collectively represents senior leadership of the Church. More members may be added when we have greater clarity around the needs and expertise required to support the Royal Commission.

In creating the Tautoko, the NZCBC and the CLCANZ recognise our pilgrim Church, like the Government, is seeking a collective approach to understanding, reviewing, and addressing the learnings of the past. The way lessons are learnt for today and the future is to examine, understand, acknowledge and address what has occurred. We will collectively work towards healing. To do that, we must support the Royal Commission with the information they need.

“We participate in the processes of the Commission as a wounded whānau. Because of, not in spite of, our own brokenness in regard to abuse, we offer our lessons. These [lessons] come from a place of deep humility. All we have to offer is our own experiences and the call to justice, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, Hehu Karaiti.” – Te Rōpū Tautoko terms of reference.

Catherine Fyfe is a lay person with extensive experience in human resource management and organisational development.


Royal Commission Update

Nearly 500 people have registered to engage with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into State Care, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said in an update on 4 October 2018.

The Royal Commission has established a contact centre as well as a website and through these, 497 people have so far registered to participate. Once the Commission is operating it is expected this number will grow.

The Royal Commission, led by Sir Anand Satyanand, has been preparing so that it is best-placed to do its substantive work as soon as its final terms of reference and membership are confirmed by Cabinet. The Ministerial working group is expected to meet in the next month to consider a range of matters before they go to cabinet for final decisions.


Have a question? We can help. Get in touch with the Diocese.

Have a question?