Abuse in Care Inquiry: Catholic Church apology to Kiwis abused by priests criticised as 'theatre'

The head of the Catholic Church in New Zealand has made a historic apology to Kiwis who have been abused by priests.

It's the first time the Church has formally said sorry, but survivors have described it as nothing more than a PR stunt.

For decades we've heard the stories of Kiwis who have been abused by Catholic priests, but until Friday those survivors had never heard a formal apology from the Church.

"I apologise to you on behalf of the bishops and congregational leaders of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand," said Cardinal John Dew, the denomination's highest-ranking member.

"We offer no excuses for their actions or for ours that have caused you harm."

For the Church, it's an historic moment, but for survivors Anne Hill and Glo Ramsay, it's meaningless. The pair has spent their lives fighting for fellow survivors of abuse committed by the Catholic Church. 

"I could've been someone. And they've taken that from us. They've taken our potential to perceive ourselves as whole," said Hill.

"I actually started to feel hopeful, just for a few moments. And then when I look back and came into reality, the betrayal of trust," said Ramsay.

"I have spent my whole life being chased by this topic."

They say they wouldn't be receiving an apology if the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care wasn't happening.

"That is theatre. And believe me, if anyone knows how to do theatre, the Catholic Church knows how to do theatre," Hill said.

Cardinal Dew admitted that the Catholic Church has been more committed to protecting itself than protecting those it hurt.

"We acknowledge that the systems and culture of the Church allowed abuse to occur. These systems and culture failed you and must change."

So far, the Archdiocese has paid out nearly $633,000 in redress to complainants. But survivors and advocates say there is no monetary value that can be placed on what happened to them.

"Anyone can apologise, but this is all about what action is this institution who produced these perpetrators going to take to give them real redress and real comfort," said Dr Murray Heasley from the Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-Based Institutions.

As for what that redress could look like?

"This is over for me when everyone has been compensated, and when the Bishops and leaders and hierarchy of the Catholic Church in New Zealand are on their knees," said Hill.

A mea culpa alone, not enough. It's what the Church does next that could make the difference for survivors.