New Zealand’s Catholic bishops and representation from Catholic religious orders have written to the Prime Minister and others requesting that a royal commission into historical abuse in state care be broadened to include abuse in religious institutions. The letter, sent last month, was addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, and the chair of the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care, Sir Anand Satyanand.
It was signed by New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Bishop Patrick Dunn and by Sr Katrina Fabish, RSM, the congregational leader of the Sisters of Mercy.
The draft terms of reference for the royal commission do not cover abuse in church institutions unless victims were referred to those institutions while in state care.
The royal commission will have the scope to cover abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, committed in the 50 years from 1950 to the end of 1999 against those in state care, but this time frame could be broadened.
The letter from the Catholic leaders expressed support for the royal commission and the recognition in the draft terms of reference “that historical abuse must be examined, understood, acknowledged and addressed”.
But it added that “ . . . we are of the firm view that no individual should be denied the possibility of making a submission to this Government inquiry. It would be wrong if some individuals felt excluded from this process simply because their path of referral to an institution was different from someone else’s”.
“Therefore we are calling for a broadening of the inquiry’s terms of reference. Similarly, we are of the view that when the Commission’s work turns to the institutions themselves, included among them should be a range of Church institutions. In this way we too will be active contributors and learners within the Royal Commission of Inquiry.”
The letter also expressed “ . . . our desire to learn from this national undertaking which we are confident will contribute positively to the strengthening and safeguarding of our whanau, communities and society”.
Public consultation on the draft terms of reference is due to finish at the end of April, after which Sir Anand will report to the Minister of Internal Affairs on the outcome of the consultation. Cabinet will consider the consultation feedback and make a decision on the final terms of reference.
The Prime Minister told media the Government was open to the feedback it received, and she would personally read and respond to the letter from the Catholic Church leaders. But she reportedly said she believed the primary function of the inquiry was to hold the state to account, and that viewed hadn’t changed, noting that “I’ve always had concerns about the impact of broadening the inquiry and diluting the responsibility that we need to take for those that were harmed in state care”.
Radio New Zealand reported that Cardinal John Dew and Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson had met Sir Anand.
A Royal Commission spokesperson reportedly said Sir Anand had met the cardinal and the archbishop, and that he was meeting a wide range of people and was not commenting on the content of any submissions.
The Anglican Church in this country is also calling for a broadening of the royal commission to include abuse in the church and its agencies. A letter with this request, signed by Archbishops Philip Richardson and Winston Halapua, on behalf of the General Synod’s Standing Committee, was sent to Ms Ardern and Ms Martin.
“We are concerned that it will be unhelpful to victims and survivors, if the inquiry and its process is limited only to the state sector, denying some the right to have their voices heard,” the letter stated.
“We believe that victims, survivors and the public at large would have greater confidence in the processes and outcomes of the royal commission’s inquiry if it was fully inclusive.”
Survivor groups and others have also called for a broadening of the royal commission’s terms of reference to include abuse in church-related settings.
In a Q&A on the Department of Internal Affairs website, several reasons are advanced for not broadening the scope of the royal commission beyond those in state care. One of the reasons cited was that “stakeholders have been clear they want the inquiry to be timely and focused. This means the scope of the inquiry must be carefully considered to make sure it can consider issues in enough detail”.
“A wider scope would be likely to significantly increase the duration and cost of the inquiry, or decrease its ability to consider issues in sufficient detail.”
The royal commission is expected to cost $12million in its first year. It will reportedly aim to report back by the end of this parliamentary term.
According to the Internal Affairs website Q&A this is “likely to be the largest royal commission that has been carried out in New Zealand”.
The full text of the Catholic leaders’ letter can be read at: www.catholic.org.nz