A series of stories has revealed the shocking scale and enduring impact of decades of sexual abuse by Marist Brothers and Fathers. But as National Correspondent Steve Kilgallon explains, yet more survivors are now coming forward and the story is far from over.

Photo: Chris McKeen/Stuff

“I was in tears reading your story,” says Dave Thomas (not his real name), of seeing the first in Stuff’s nine-part series about sexual abuse by the Marist Brothers and Fathers, two powerful Catholic religious groups.

Then, says Thomas, he sat and read it all over again. The story focused on a prolific abuser, Marist Brother Kevin ‘Brother Giles’ Waters, who never faced justice during his long teaching career.

Thomas says he too was raped by Waters, his rugby coach, while a student at Auckland’s Sacred Heart in the late 1980s. He says when he tried to complain to the principal, he was dismissed. Waters then repeatedly warned him to stay quiet, and made his life miserable, vandalising his bike, and ostracising him from his friends until he left school early, at 17.

Waters, he says, “was an absolute monster … I was absolutely petrified of him”. He’s certain Waters had realised he would complain, “so I was completely victimised – and no one believed me in the end.” Thomas also named another Brother, still alive, as abusing him later in his school career.

Thomas says Stuff’s reporting has been vital. “I am absolutely adamant this is one of the biggest cover-ups in history – there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of us out there,” he says.

He has now filed a formal complaint to the Marist Brothers.

Thomas is one of many survivors to contact Stuff since our series began.

The Marist Brothers and Marist Fathers first came to New Zealand from France in the mid-19th century, with plans to evangelise the Māori population but soon shifted their focus to education. About nine per cent of Kiwis have a Catholic education, and for the majority of Catholic men, that came at a Marist boys’ secondary school, such as Silverstream and St Pat’s in Wellington, Xavier in Christchurch and Sacred Heart in Auckland.

Our series has reported on the Marists’ history of sexual abuse; its failure to properly investigate and police that behaviour; the pitiful compensation it paid out, despite its wealth; and the use of the ‘geographic cure’ of moving unpunished offenders around the country.

The stories have prompted a strong reaction. Several more victims have come forward. Renewed efforts at bringing some form of justice have emerged. And the impact of the offending has become clearer, including the loss of life to suicide.

More victims, more anguish

As well as Dave Thomas, four more former students of Waters, from his time teaching in Christchurch, Invercargill and Greymouth, have come forward as victims.

They described how Waters was known by the pejorative nickname ‘Juicy’. He was infamous for giving sex talks, touching boys in the showers and even patting them with a cricket bat as they washed. “It made my skin crawl to see his photos,” said one. “A vicious, nasty prick,” said another. “All the boys knew about him, so the other Brothers could not have failed to know,” said a third. It illustrates how prolific abusers hid in plain sight, and how their regular movement around the country enabled their offending.

Waters’ survivors were not alone in speaking up, triggered by reading the name of their abuser.

Official church statistics suggest 12 per cent of Brothers, and six per cent of Fathers had credible sexual abuse complaints against them. But this is likely to be under-estimate of the reality, given the well-recognised problem of under-reporting of sexual abuse.

Like Thomas, Alan White (not his real name), has never reported his abuse. He says he now intends to raise a formal complaint about his experience with former Sacred Heart principal Ken ‘Brother Bosco’ Camden – who also featured in part one of the series.

White says Camden took a close interest in him after his brother died, and at the beginning of term two, in April 1980, he was in Camden’s office when Camden put a hand up his shorts. “I simply bolted,” he says; he ran out of the school grounds, caught a bus home, and never returned, instead enrolling at nearby Selwyn College. He’s since had counselling to deal with the experience.

Both White and another survivor, John Marshall, named another now retired and elderly Marist Brother as one of many who watched boys shower naked. Marshall said: “If there was ever a case of being raped by someone’s eyes, this was it.”

In a statement, Virginia Noonan, director of the Catholic National Office of Professional Standards (NOPS), encouraged complainants to step forward. “We are grateful to hear from any survivor… we can arrange for professional support for them to be provided.”

NOPS says that while the Brother named by White and Marshall is now in aged care, it is “still a matter for us to enquire into”.

Another survivor of Kevin ‘Brother Gordon’ Healy, who appeared in part three of the series, told us of how Healy abused him at Marist Miramar in the early 1980s – and his anger at how Healy, who had also abused children at his previous post in Masterton in the late 1970s was moved by the Marist Brothers.

“I am particularly angry at the Marist Brothers and the Church for “shifting” the problem of Healy from the Wairarapa to Wellington. How could that possibly be considered as a just and “Christian” solution? The Church’s continued culpability in this is staggering.”

The survivor says they’re aware of at least one other victim of Healy who hasn’t come forward.

Healy, now 82, has served two sentences of home detention for his offending.

The Silverstream story

Several former students who attended St Patrick’s Silverstream – the focus of parts six and eight of the series – contacted Stuff with their recollections of abuse at the school. We reported on how former Silverstream rector Frank ‘Fred the Fiddler’ Durning was allowed to abuse children throughout his career despite plenty of warning signs – and how there were several other active paedophiles from the 1950s to the 1980s.

One man said his father studied at Silverstream between 1947 and 1950, on a ‘late vocation’ intending to train for the priesthood, when a younger boy told him he’d been sexually abused by Durning. “Dad thought it couldn’t be true because Durning was very highly regarded, a man of the cloth and beyond reproach. Durning was revered as a brilliant teacher who was highly intelligent.” It still troubles the man, now 93 years old, that he did not believe his classmate.

Another named a deceased Marist Father, Kevin Maher, a name known already to the Survivors Network, as his abuser, while another identified Durning’s predecessor as Silverstream rector, Ivan Evatt.

He says he was abused in a by-then elderly Evatt’s study during lunchtime meetings. His father had died when he was five, and he believes his need for a male role model made him an easy target. The abuse, he says, was sustained, and got worse until he refused to meet Evatt further. “By this time the damage was done, and it has had a very damaging impact on my life since.”

Yet another says he was abused by former Marist Brother Ray ‘Brother Ivan’ Gannaway, now deceased, who was abusing him and others “using the veneer” of overnight camping trips when he taught at St Bernard’s College, Lower Hutt, in the 1970s.

The impact has even reached Fiji. After reading part seven of our series, in which survivor Felix Fremlin shed his anonymity to discuss his abuse by Marist Brothers Bertrand Hodgkins and Terence Payne, another Fijian survivor has lodged a complaint against the same two brothers, for abuse in the early 1980s.

“I thought I was the only victim and hence kept it in, until I saw the article,” he says. “It still haunts me to this day to think back and re-live the abuse. It is not easy to tell my story and I feel gutted and shameful in doing so.”

Murray Heasley, from the Network of Survivors of Faith-based Abuse and their Supporters, says he’s had ten new survivors approach him as a result of the reporting.

“These articles have had a profound effect on a number of levels,” Heasley says. “Survivors who spoke up have felt validated and empowered. Others who felt isolated and fearful have engaged with the network and spoken of their abuse after years of painful silence. The offending institution has been exposed, not for harbouring a few rotten apples but as a poisoned orchard.”

The impact endures

With so many victims and a long, complicated legacy of suppressing the offending, the impact of it all is still being understood.

The brother of John Wilson (not his real name), who began our series by telling his story of brutal abuse by Waters and the catastrophic effects it had on his life, told us of how Wilson confided in him. “I didn’t know how to react,” says Wilson’s brother. “When you find out your brother has suffered such unimaginable abuse as a child and he has lived in silence all these years with this, it is a shock. It is something I think about almost constantly. I remember him as a sweet boy. Everyone loved him … then while I was at primary school all of this changed. Johnny became quiet and withdrawn.”

One reader told the story of how her brother was driven to suicide after being raped by a Marist Brother. “I can remember him trying to tell our parents. He had tears pouring down his face.”

A former Marist priest, John Gawith, who quit the order in 1990, says he knew of one victim of abuse at Christchurch’s St Bede’s College who committed suicide, and another who suffered severe mental health issues after his alleged abuser “lawyered up” and denied his claims.

“The number of paedophile priests and brothers in New Zealand and the world is and has been a huge problem,” Gawith says.

“Early on, the church tried to deny the extent of the problem. Now there is a new denial with a tendency to deny the harm done to the victims by the offending.”

Gawith says a culture of obedience within the Marist Fathers and a black humour around offending had downplayed the issue and helped cover it up.

Separately, a source has suggested the church appointed a liaison officer to a police unit working on a sex offenders ‘prevention and monitoring’ exercise in the 1990s called ‘Project Sapphire’. The church says it has no record of that work, but the claim is credible and suggests the church knew of a sexual abuse crisis in its midst long before it became widely publicised in 2002.

Some victims, meanwhile, continue to work for justice. A group of survivors at Hato Paora College – where two Marist Brothers were jailed for sexual offending – are discussing how to advance their claims as the Marists system is culturally inappropriate.

Not the end of the story

Although there will never be a categorically complete picture, the scale of the offending by Marist Brothers and Fathers, and its enduring impact, are now better understood. What then needs to happen to better acknowledge and address the harm done?

Survivors and their support groups are in broad agreement.

  • Everyone knows there are many more victims out there. They just don’t know how many there are. The Marists ought to be proactively finding them – but aren’t. Old boys of their schools should be contacted to see if they have stories to share.
  • The church is rich, very rich, and the Marists are no exception – the two groups are worth, at a conservative minimum, $400m, and have only 159 remaining members. But their payouts to victims are very small – about $10,000 to $30,000 each. The law and ACC are used as an excuse for that, and both groups frame their payouts not as compensation, but “gifts”. Neither group intends to change that approach. Survivors say change should be forced upon them: a compulsory independent body with significant survivor representation should set compensation levels, and increase them significantly, to match the six-figure payments overseas.
  • That compensation should not come from the public purse, nor from the pockets of the Catholic laity. In France, the current recommendation is to force church groups to sell assets. The Marists could be compelled to sell, for example, the Mission Estate vineyard, a huge source of income.
  • Survivors argue that the Marists repeatedly failed to adequately investigate themselves. While much investigative work is now centralised by the main church, the church should not have a role in investigating its own complaints and deciding guilt. Again, survivors are pressing for this role to sit with an independent body with professionally-qualified investigative staff.
  • Both groups have apologised for their actions. Survivors say for that apology to feel genuine, they must demonstrate a much more open approach. Both have refused to discuss individual cases with Stuff, even when survivors offered privacy waivers. The groups could open up their files so people could see the full scale of offending – and if it was covered up.
  • Police have yet to conduct a full-scale inquiry into any of the Marist offending. When they fully investigated the Marylands school, run by another Catholic group, the St John of God, multiple charges were laid and a huge number of complainants identified. Stuff’s reporting has shown 40 years of abuse at one school, St Patrick’s Silverstream, by multiple perpetrators. We have found abuse at almost every senior school run by both groups. A deep police inquiry would find much more, say survivors.
  • Law changes are urgently required to make civil action by survivors possible. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care must take a lead in proposing legislative reform. The commission must also drive the formation of an independent body.
  • The system remains very hard for survivors to navigate. The Network of Survivors’ Liz Tonks has identified a host of issues with the complaints process – a lack of transparency, a lack of consistency, the “mystery” around how compensation is calculated. Survivors should be entitled to a copy of investigation reports and have the ability to test evidence. Single victim cases remain difficult, police and the church are reluctant to proceed with them.

Both Marist groups are so named because they exist to live the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus – humility, honesty, compassion, hospitality and quietly doing good deeds. It may be time for them to consider whether they’ve truly met that standard, or whether they’ve done more harm than good for Catholics, and for New Zealand society.

By Steve Kilgallon
Published in Stuff