A Christchurch man wants the Catholic Church to release information he says it has about a priest who sexually abused him as a 12-year-old.

George Russell said he was an alter boy in Temuka when he was abused by Father Cornelius O’Brien in 1972.

He has avoided churches ever since.

Russell said he knows the Catholic Church has a dossier on O’Brien, who has since returned to the UK and died.

Published in Stuff

He wants it made available to others who were abused by the priest, so they can understand they are not alone, and to encourage more survivors to come forward.

“It shouldn’t be up to people like me to have to ask for this. The church should acknowledge that its priests did wrong. This is not going to go away and it will be big kudos to them if they do the right thing and front up, rather than trying to deny it.”

Russell recently met another man who was abused by O’Brien and said just talking with him helped the healing process.

“I was buzzing afterwards just to know there was someone else,” he said. “It’s not about the abuse. It’s about having something in common that we shouldn’t have in common.”

O’Brien arrived in New Zealand from Ireland in the early 1960s and served in parishes around Canterbury, including Addington, Ashburton, Papanui and Cheviot, as well as on the West Coast.

The extent that O’Brien was shifted around by the church showed its leaders knew something was wrong, Russell said.

“They must have known and they allowed it to happen. They just kept moving him on.”

A 2017 church investigator’s report into his case showed the church had a file on O’Brien, Russell said, which be believed will likely show details of other sexual assaults on boys.

The investigator’s report uncovered a 1976 newspaper clipping showing O’Brien was convicted that year of indecency with a 10-year-old, Russell said. O’Brien left New Zealand after that.

Russell said the church must have known about the conviction, so he could not understand why it still named O’Brien in a 2017 church newsletter that listed priests who “gloriously blessed” the Christchurch diocese by leaving their native countries to proclaim the word of God in New Zealand.

“How could they say that? I really can’t understand how they could let that happen.”

Russell said after he was abused, he survived by creating a life to keep himself safe. He would not go to boarding school and chose to bury his experience for about 40 years.

It all became too much though during his current job as a chef in a residential care home for young people, where he came into contact with children who had been affected by abuse.

“It just wore me down and I ended up crumpled in a heap.”

A doctor and counsellor helped put him back together and Russell is now part of a weekly peer support group of 40 to 50 Christchurch men who have been abused. The number varies as the men get what they need to be able to continue with their lives.

​Russell has received an apology from the church, but said transparency would be better.

The Catholic Diocese of Christchurch did not respond to requests for comment.

By Colin Williscroft
Published in Stuff
17 September 2018