“Great shame and sorrow” over abuse of Māori in Church care

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Physical, sexual,  emotional, and cultural harm occurred to Māori in the care of the Catholic Church, the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care has heard as it begins its Māori hearings.

“Many Māori share the Catholic faith, and there is a great sadness felt that the Church has failed Māori in its care, leading to loss of faith and identity,” Church lawyer James Meager told the opening session of the commission’s Māori public hearing, which began at Ōrākei Marae in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland today.

James Meager appeared as counsel for Te Rōpū Tautoko, the group coordinating Catholic engagement with the royal commission  on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

This hearing will continue until 18 March and focus on the lived experiences of whānau Māori who were abused by State and faith-based institutions. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the hearings are closed to the public, but are being live-streamed here.  

The first witness who will speak specifically about abuse in the care of the Catholic Church is scheduled to appear at 10am on Wednesday morning, 9 March. This page will be updated to reflect evidence given during the hearing.

While the Church has a relatively minor part in these Māori-specific hearings, it sought to attend to tautoko and acknowledge the mana of Māori survivors, and to continue to encourage survivors to come forward, James Meager told the opening session.

“Many Māori were, in a variety of ways, in the care of representatives of the Catholic Church since the first Catholic missionaries arrived in New Zealand from the early 1800s,” he said. “To the Church’s great shame and sorrow, Māori are among those subject to harm and abuse while in the care of the Church.

“The Catholic Church has a long history of working with Māori. Many of the first missions to New Zealand were for the express purpose of supporting Māori women, for example. Many Māori share the Catholic faith, and there is a great sadness felt that the Church has failed Māori in its care, leading to loss of faith and identity.

“The Church acknowledges that a lack of information about the whakapapa of children who were placed into its care means we will likely never know the extent of harm suffered by Māori within the Catholic Church.

"And we do know that harm did occur, not just physical, sexual, or emotional, but also cultural harm. The lack of recognition of whakapapa in itself is a cause of trauma. This has been a theme of previous hearings of this Inquiry. The Church hopes that through this dedicated Māori hearing, it can continue to learn how to respond to complaints of abuse in a culturally appropriate way which enhances and respects the mana of survivors.

“The Church acknowledges all survivors and especially those survivors who will share their experiences of harm in Catholic institutions. Church leaders and others involved with these institutions will be watching and listening to their testimony. As is appropriate, the Church will not be asking any questions of survivors, but that should not be seen in any way as reducing the Church’s commitment to listening to these voices, and all survivor voices,” James Meager said.

The full Opening Statement is here in PDF format.