St John of God brothers and Catholic Church deeply regret abuse of children at Marylands

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Twenty-six men including brothers and employees of the St John of God order were accused of abusing more than 100 vulnerable children at the Marylands School run by the order in Christchurch, the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care has heard.

The St John of God brothers and the leaders of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand deeply regret the failure to keep these children safe while they were in their care, said lawyer Sally McKechnie, representing the bishops and congregational leaders of the Church at the royal commission.

“The abuse which occurred to children and young people while in the care of the Catholic Church is deeply shameful and should never have happened,” Ms McKechnie told the commission’s Marylands School hearing, which began on Wednesday 11 February and ended on Thursday 17 February.

Sally McKechnie’s full opening submissions can be read in PDF format here.

Read Archbishop Paul Martin's witness statement from his appearance to give evidence on 16 February. See Archbishop Paul giving his evidence in this Royal Commission video.

Read the closing submissions on behalf of the congregational leaders and bishops of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, made on 17 February. Video of Sally McKechnie giving the closing submissions is here.

You can read the statements of witnesses here, published after they completed giving their evidence.

This hearing bloc of the Royal Commission was investigating abuse by the Hospitaller Order of St John of God religious brothers that occurred at Marylands School and two other institutions in Christchurch;  St Joseph’s Orphanage and the Hebron Trust from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s.

Many of the witnesses gave evidence by audio visual link. Attendance in the commission’s Auckland hearing rooms was restricted by the commission because of the red setting of the COVID-19 protection framework. The Church was represented at the hearing by a small number of people to bear witness to the evidence.

This page has the full Marylands hearing schedule including all the witnesses, and links to their statements and videos of evidence.

Video of all the opening statements can be viewed here.

Sally McKechnie said in her opening remarks at the start of the hearing: “We are not here to question the evidence of survivors. We are here to listen to survivors describe their experiences, to reflect on past wrongs, and to learn how the Church can ensure that proper redress and healing takes place for survivors of abuse, and then decide what practical steps are to be implemented as a result of this process. The Church is already working to improve processes but this will never cease. Constant change and improvement for the good of survivors is paramount.

“We must confront the fact that Bernard McGrath, a member of the St John of God Brothers, is one of Australasia’s worst sexual offenders against children. Following a three-year jail sentence [in 1New Zealand] in 1993, he was convicted of 21 offences in 2006. Most recently, he was convicted of 64 offences against 12 boys in Australia. He is currently serving a sentence of 33 years in prison in Australia for his offending, and will likely die in prison.

“He offended not only at Marylands and Hebron, but in institutions in Australia. All of his offending was against vulnerable young people. It is likely that, had his New Zealand offending been prosecuted under modern prosecutorial standards, his convictions would be far more numerous and his prison time much greater.

“Allegations reported to St John of God relating to McGrath account for almost 5 per cent of the reported abuse held by Catholic Church authorities in New Zealand.

“Bernard McGrath was not the only man to offend against children at Marylands. The evidence will show that in total, 26 men, including Brothers and employees of the Order, have allegations of abuse made against them for offending against over 100 children at Marylands. The nature and extent of this offending is at the extreme end and is likely to be only matched by the scale of offending which took place in the worst state institutions.

“The St John of God Brothers, and the leaders of the Catholic Church deeply regret the failure to keep these children safe while they were in their care. The Church carries deep shame for this dark chapter of their history.

“The seriousness of the offending is reflected in the redress process undertaken by the brothers, which is likely the largest amount of redress provided by a single non-Crown institution for offending in New Zealand. The brothers welcome last year’s interim redress report proposing an independent redress process.”