A man who was sexually abused as a boy at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream only ever wanted the photographs of his abusers removed from the school’s hall, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care has heard.

Tina Cleary’s father, Patrick Cleary, was sexually abused by two priests when he was aged 12 at the Catholic boys school in 1951.

Published in Stuff

It took decades for the proud man to be able to tell anyone of the abuse. He told his full story to the Royal Commission in a private session in 2019. He died in July.

His statements were read by his daughter Tina Cleary on Monday. She bought her father’s walking stick to the hearing and held it in the witness box as she read his evidence.

Patrick Cleary told the Commission that Father Patrick Minto accidentally cut his middle finger with an axe while the pair collected firewood in 1951.

His injury allowed him to sit next to the heater in Minto’s study.

But the priest had ulterior motives and when the pair were alone, Minto began to kiss him.

The priest would also whisper sermons in his ear during the abuse.

In the second term, Cleary was summoned to the room of the rector, Father Francis Durning, known to everyone as Fred.

“He hardly gave himself time to lock the door before he started fiddling with my belt, explaining: ‘I just want to inspect things down there’.”

Tina Cleary was emotional as she described the effects of abuse on her father’s life. He very rarely showed physical affection to her, though she never had any doubt of his love.

Later in life, Patrick Cleary made a complaint to the church and wanted the photos of the priests removed from the school hall.

“The presentation of the pictures is especially galling, lighting placed as if they are angels, a demeanour of superiority as if they have a direct line to God. A sickening hypocrisy to anyone who knows better.”

Tina Cleary said the school would not remove the photographs, and her father spoke out in the media.

It took a mother of one of the students to complain so “other children did not honour dishonourable men”.

Tina Cleary described her father as a giant of a man but it took a lot of courage for him to speak out.

Many in the hearing appeared emotional, including the Commissioners.

“He was not a good man. He was a pedophile.”

Earlier, a survivor of sexual abuse by a Marist Brother said the Catholic Church needed to recognise child sex abuse as a crime and not just a breach of celibacy.

Frances Tagaloa told the Royal Commission she was abused by a teacher, Brother Bede, at Marist Brothers Intermediate School in Ponsonby, when she was between 5 and 7-years-old.

The abuse had a profound effect on her childhood that continued into later life, including flashbacks and nightmares in her teenage years. It had also affected her ability to trust others, particularly men.

She spoke of her Samoan heritage and the internal struggle she had to overcome before telling her parents, wider family and husband of Bede’s offending.

Tagaloa was also conscious of speaking negatively to her parents about the church, an organisation that was so important to her parents and family.

It was her mother who spurred her on to make a complaint, calling Catholic Church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer in 2002.

From there she was put in touch directly with the Marist Brothers.

She couldn’t remember if there had been an apology but recalled getting a letter which she threw out because she was too upset.

There was also an offer of compensation but Tagaloa wasn’t interested in money, she wanted answers.

“I wanted to know how could this have happened, how was there so very little supervision of Brother Bede.”

She also wanted to make sure Br Bede was no longer working with children.

Tagaloa said at no time did anyone suggest she should go to the police.

She told the commission the Catholic Church’s exclusion of women in leadership roles contributed to the abuse.

She would also like the church to recognise child abuse for what it is – abuse.

“Canon law should be changed so that offences of sex abuse are reframed as crimes against the child rather than breaches of celibacy or obligations. It’s horrific to me that they have not recognised child sexual abuse as a crime.”

She was disturbed that Brother Bede had been honoured with a classroom named after him.

“I just don’t think Br Bede should be honoured in anyway. He was not a good man. He was a pedophile.”

“Silent No More”

Dr Murray Heasley, a spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based institutions, reminded the commission many survivors had died before receiving justice.

“For the many victims who have passed or who took their own lives because the pain was simply too much to bear, we remember you today.”

Another advocate for the network, Liz Tonks, told the commission the survivors were taking a brave step in coming forward. She said they risked their stories being seen by the public as “just another survivor story”.

“[It is a] public that is saturated with examples of such abuse and whose lack of outrage can only be understood in terms of how a tolerance of abuse has become woven into our New Zealand culture, a tolerance and acceptance that is a huge barrier for all victim survivors to overcome.”

Lawyer for the Catholic bishops and congregations, Sally McKechnie, said the hearing was not a place to question or challenge survivors but rather to listen and learn from their experiences.

She said the church was fully committed to co-operating with any police inquiry.

By Edward Gay
Published in Stuff
30 Nov 2020