More survivors of clerical sex abuse are coming forward after Catholic school Old Boys formed an online support network as the Church continues stonewalling over the extent of sexual predation.

Published in Radio NZ

As the new victims emerged, a Catholic religious order used the upcoming Royal Commission as a reason for not providing information to RNZ about known child abusers, even though a report on faith-based abuse is not due until 2023.

St Bernard’s Lower Hutt Old Boy Patrick Hill and another abuse victim, Steve Goodlass, set up a Facebook group to offer assistance and in doing so unearthed further victims, Mr Hill told RNZ.

In 2015 Mr Hill instigated the prosecution Marist Brother, Patrick Bignell, which led to his conviction for abusing Mr Hill and two other boys.

“We now have information that in fact there were seven of us abused by Brother Patrick Bignell during the 1980s and 90s,” Mr Hill said.

“Victims have come out of the woodwork… He took nude photos of many of his victims. He also used those same photos to groom and lure other boys. So he created a trail of victims and a timeline for us to track.”

St Bernard’s School and the Church told RNZ Catholic authorities were not aware of any information that suggested other victims of Brother Bignell existed.

There was also no record of attempts being made in the intervening decades to find other victims or confront other predators.

The Marist Order is now citing the upcoming Royal Commission as a reason not to answer questions on Brother Bignell, including whether or not his current role involved him having access to children.

“With regards to your questions, in light of the forthcoming Royal Commission, I will not be providing information to the media on individual cases,” Brother Peter Horide, who handles sex complaints for the Marist Brothers, said in a statement to RNZ.

Prior to this the Church had chosen to confirm to RNZ where it had upheld abuse complaints against clergy in two cases.

However, Mr Hill – now a primary school teacher in London – said the St Bernard’s Facebook group was uncovering information that was disturbing for families of abuse victims.

“I think they’re more horrified because we now have enough evidence to strongly suggest that there were other staff members … who were aware of what was going on,” he said.

“For example, many of his [Brother Bignell’s] victims were taken to the residence on Birch Street, and there were other Marist Brothers … who saw the comings and goings of children, and did nothing about it.”

He praised the current staff at St Bernard’s and said the school was in “good standing”.

School principal Simon Stack has urged the Marist Order to answer RNZ’s questions about Br Bignell and any other complaints “with reasonable priority”.

He said only the Marists would have the records readily available.

The Wellington Archdiocese, which oversees the school, also referred questions to the Marist Brothers.

“All of those questions can only be answered by the Marist Brothers,” the Bishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, said by email to RNZ.

“They will be able to provide you with that information… You have also asked about how many complaints of sexual abuse of minors have been upheld against clergy or staff at the school, at any time… I have to leave that to the school to provide that for you.”

Brother Horide did not provide the information, nor even state in what years Brother Bignell was employed at St Bernard’s or if he was in contact with children.

Instead, an email stated the policy was that any clergy convicted or investigated over abuse was immediately withdrawn from any contact with young people.

Brother Horide said victims should go to the police or the Catholic National Office of Professional Standards, a body heavily criticised by victims for its handling of abuse complaints.

Retired Marist Brother, Richard Dunleavy, who handled Steve Goodlass’ complaint against Brother Bignell, said he had always acted quickly on any complaint.

He said he saw Steve Goodlass within five days of getting his complaint, though he also said it took the Dunedin Diocese two years to get the complaint to him.

Mr Hill said it would be up to any victims who contacted the new St Bernard’s network if they went further to pursue justice, but it would be a battle.

“We can assume that Catholic institutions are very, very good at covering their tracks and making sure that things go away,” he said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if things have been hidden away and things have been destroyed.”

Abuse survivors talked to by RNZ referred to abuse committed by another Marist Brother, Claudius Pettit. RNZ has asked the courts for more information

Brother Dunleavy initially told RNZ he did not know of any other abusers. When Brother Pettit was mentioned, however, he replied: “Oh yes, the Brother Claudius one, that was public wasn’t it, he went to prison.”

When Brother Pettit died in 2015, the Marist eulogy said: “A totara tree has fallen in the great forest of Tane.”

Simon Stack said in a statement that his school was “deeply saddened” to hear of the historic abuse, and that safely caring for students remained their first priority.

However, he also told RNZ that reporting on historic abuse cases risked damaging the reputation of the school currently, and might not be good for current students.

RNZ questions and answers:

  • How many sex abuse complaints against Br Bignell do the Marist Brothers have in total?
  • When was the earliest complaint, and the date when the Church first upheld any complaint?
  • What years was he employed and in what roles? Please provide a full record of his other service, including his time in the Philippines
  • What is Br Bignell doing now and does he have any access to children or teenagers?
  • Any record of a complaint or investigation of sexual abuse against any other clergy or staff at the school, at any time?

St Bernard’s College principal Simon Stack: “We do not hold any accurate records with regards to your first three questions. You will need to get that information from the Marist Brothers. The Board and I are not aware of any records of complaints or investigations into sexual abuse against any clergy or staff at the school.

As a college community, we are deeply saddened to hear of this historic abuse. The Board of Trustees wants to reassure the St Bernard’s College community of their commitment to the care and wellbeing of all, and to the provision of a safe and supportive environment for our students which remains our first priority.

Complainants may choose to go directly to the police. We also encourage them or other interested parties to visit http://www.abuseinstatecare.royalcommission.govt.nz/ to find out any further information about the Inquiry.

Cardinal John Dew, Bishop of Wellington: “All of those questions can only be answered by the Marist Brothers. The years he was employed at St Bernard’s, the roles he had, the full record of his FMS service is material that only the Marist Brothers have. As you have said that you will be following this up with the Marist Brothers they will be able to provide you with that information. It is simply not information I have, or the Archdiocese of Wellington has. That belongs entirely to the Marist Brothers.

You have also asked about how many complaints of sexual abuse of minors have been upheld against clergy or staff at the school, at any time? You have also asked me to provide dates etc. Again, this is not something I am able to do. I do not know of any other complaints of abuse at St Bernard’s College. As you have also said that you will be flowing this up with the School I have to leave that to the School to provide that for you.”

Marist Brothers Br Peter Horide: “With regards to your questions, in light of the forthcoming Royal Commission, I will not be providing information to the media on individual cases. We encourage anyone who has a complaint against a member of clergy or religious order to lay a complaint to the Church’s National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS) which offers support to complainants and arranges for an independent investigation of the alleged offending. We also advise all complainants of their right to go to the police. NOPS contact is: 0800 114 622 or prof.standards@nzcbc.org.nz Finally, we encourage complainants or other interested parties to visit http://www.abuseinstatecare.royalcommission.govt.nz/ to find out any further information about the Inquiry.”

Where to get help:

For male survivors –

Road Forward Trust, Wellington – Contact Richard on 0211181043

Better Blokes Auckland – 099902553

The Canterbury Men’s Centre – 03 3776747

The Male Room, Nelson – 035480403

Male Survivors, Waikato – 07 8584112

Male Survivors, Otago – 0211064598

For female survivors –

Help Wellington – 048016655

Help, Auckland – 09 623 1296.

For urgent help: Safe To Talk 0800044334

By Phil Pennington
Published in Radio NZ
26 November 2018