Survivors of sexual abuse say they are outraged it took more than 15 years to defrock a paedophile priest after he was convicted.

Former Dunedin priest Magnus (Max) Murray has been removed from the priesthood following a formal church judicial process.

This was after he pleaded guilty to sexual offending against four boys between 1958 and 1972.

While some have welcomed the defrocking, others say it’s too little and too late.

Published in Radio New Zealand

Dunedin sexual abuse survivor Darryl Smith said he was angry that Murray wasn’t defrocked earlier.

He knew someone who suffered at the hands of Murray, and said the church had the wrong priorities.

“He is a convicted paedophile and he gets treated better than the survivors do,” Mr Smith said.

“I know personally some of them here in Dunedin that are quite upset about it.”

Murray previously served as a Catholic priest of the Dunedin and Hamilton diocese before retiring in 1990.

He was later found guilty of abusing four Dunedin boys over a 14-year period, and was convicted in 2003.

Despite that conviction, he retained the title of priest.

The Church judicial process only started in February last year – 15 years after the conviction, and the decision was revealed on Wednesday.

Mr Smith said it was the indefinite wait for action that compounded the suffering of survivors.

“It makes it even harder for the person to cope, going ‘ well where’s the Vatican, the Vatican’s not taking them seriously about defrocking’. He should have been defrocked in the 1970s.”

Male Survivors Aotearoa national advocate Ken Clearwater said the wait was unacceptable and he wanted to know why it took so long.

“It’s a continuation of the Vatican and the Catholic Church in covering up the sexual abuse of children. No other organisation in the world would be able to get away with what they’ve got away with so they may be feeling good about themselves at the moment but it’s totally unacceptable the length of time,” Mr Clearwater said.

“He should have been defrocked the moment that he was convicted of sexually abusing children.”

The Catholic Bishop of Hamilton Steve Lowe said the former priest’s age and health – he is now in his 90s – complicated the process.

“Sadly, his removal from the priesthood, does not take away any of the harm that Max Murray’s criminal abuse inflicted on those he offended against,” Bishop Lowe said.

“I hope this action may bring some sense of justice being done to those who have been abused.”

And while it was a very late step forward, Ken Clearwater said victims would re-live the trauma and would need the support they never got at the time.

“Now that he’s been defrocked, of course that will bring it all back for those survivors so they’ll be going through a lot of trauma and also the fact that they hadn’t had anything happen before.”

Defrocking didn’t really make a difference for some survivors – Mr Smith said it was more an issue of public image than justice.

He had a message for the church.

“The Catholic Church needs to wake up. We’re not talking about Dunedin diocese, we’re talking about the whole lot need to just wake up. Wake up and go ‘hey, we’ve done this’. Put your hand up and be honest … no more covers ups, hand over documents to police, hand over paedophiles to the police that you know and you’ve hidden or you’ve sent overseas – hand them to the police,” Mr Smith said.

Bishop Steve Lowe urged anyone who has experienced sexual abuse by a priest or church member to contact the church’s National Office of Professional Standards using 0800 114 622 or by emailing

It’s accompanied by a message encouraging other victims to come forward if they wish, saying the church will assist anyone who wants to report any abuse directly to the police.

Published in Radio New Zealand
23 May 2019