Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn has called on parishioners to work together towards a safe church environment in the light of abuse issues that have hounded the Catholic Church, both here and overseas. Speaking at the Bishop’s Forum in Moerewa on August 11, Bishop Dunn told parishioners that “just as we are very aware of health and safety issues, so too we need to think
of the safety of our children and the vulnerable adults and to protect our wonderful volunteers, too”. The forum was for the parishes in the Tai Tokerau deanery.

“In the light of all the abuse issues, we need to lead the way as it were towards a safe environment, church-wise,” he said. “We have been working on this for 20 years.”

Bishop Dunn updated the parishioners on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care, as well as on how the diocese is working on having a safe church.

Parishioner Dot Peters from  Waitaruke raised the issue of abuse by the late Fr Michael Shirres, OP, who worked closely within Maori communities.

Ms Peters suggested that suspicions of abuse or written complaints about an actual abuse case should be immediately reported to the police.

Bishop Dunn, however, said the Church’s position on this matter is to respect the wishes of the complainant.

“If the complainant wants to go to the police, we will help them. But if they don’t want to, we will not force them,” he said. “If we take the stance of mandatory reporting, many will
not come forward.”

“Others have said to me what they wanted was to be heard and to be believed.”

Bishop Dunn handed out National Safeguarding Guidelines booklets to the parishioners that will inform them about the guidelines for the prevention of, and response to, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

The bishop pointed out that the Church had first published Te Houhanga Rongo — A Path to Healing in 1998. This establishes procedures for responding to complaints of
abuse in the Church.

“This is a living document,” he said.

Other Tai Tokerau issues raised included training priests to work with Maori families, faith education of children in state schools, as well as reforming parish pastoral councils.

Bishop Dunn also discussed the pastoral plan, the recent youth synod, how to stem the Kiwi drift from the Church, the priests in ministry, leaky buildings at Holy Cross Seminary
and other subjects.

Towards the end of the forum, Te Tai Tokerau Regional Pastoral Council chair Joe Clarke and secretary Mary Hape thanked Diocesan Pastoral Council executive secretary Pat Lythe, who will be retiring on October 5. This was the last Bishop’s Forum that she organised.

Mrs Lythe, who has been working for the diocese for 26 years, assured them of her love and that she would be coming back as an ordinary participant and not as “she who must be obeyed”, which caused the people to burst into laughter.