'Horrifying' statistics show abuse complaints laid against 1 in 7 Catholic clergy working for a bishop

About half were over sexual abuse, and 80 percent involved children.
About half were over sexual abuse, and 80 percent involved children. Photo credit: Getty Images.

New abuse figures show one in seven Catholic clergy who work for a bishop have had abuse complaints laid against them.

The Catholic Church for the first time today publicly released figures showing the scale of sexual and other abuse nationwide since 1950.

NZ Catholic Bishops Conference president Cardinal John Dew said the figures were "horrifying".

The church compiled the numbers in response to a request from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse.

They show 1122 survivors laid almost 1700 complaints, that named almost 600 perpetrators of abuse. Others were not named.

About half were over sexual abuse, and 80 percent involved children.

Almost 380 complaints were laid against 182 - or 14 percent - of clergy who work under a bishop (called "diocesan" clergy).

This compares with 599 complaints made against eight percent (187) of the 2286 brothers or priests who work for a congregation, and 258 reports against three percent (120) of the 4247 nuns or sisters.

About 140 allegations of abuse were made against others, such as staff or volunteers.

The scale of abuse had not been collated before now, chair of Te Rōpū Tautoko, the Catholic body that coordinates with the Royal Commission, Catherine Fyfe said.

"We have published this information now, as soon as the work on it has been completed," Fyfe said in a statement.

Getting it together involved "dozens of people over two years, including searching paper files dating back 70 years in hundreds of places".

Congregational Leaders Conference of Aotearoa New Zealand president Sister Margaret Anne Mills, representing Catholic religious orders and similar entities, said each piece of data represent many people's lives, and often "terrible harm committed by one person on another. We can never forget that".

All Church leaders had to urgently understand and acknowledge their shared history in this, she said.

Facts like these helped to face up to "the sad reality", Cardinal Dew said.

"These statistics ... are horrifying and something we are deeply ashamed of... The church will learn from this and affirm its commitment to the work of safeguarding."

A survivor of abuse at a church school, Steve Goodlass of Central Otago, says this first-ever release is a good sign that perhaps the church was having a genuine change of heart in favour of transparency and accountability.

It needed to prove this by offering meaningful redress and not default to its standard approach of not accepting responsibility, he told RNZ.

Christchurch was a hotbed, with almost a third of all the complaints centred on a school and orphanage and a trust there run by Brothers and Catholic Sisters.

The report shows the church has paid out $16.8m to 470 survivors.

A whopping $10m of that has gone to victims of just two organisations, the St John of God Brothers, and the Sisters of Nazareth.

Where to get help: