An abuse survivor says churches missed a golden opportunity to really reflect on how Aotearoa New Zealand has acquired such a horrendous record of abusing those in care.
Faith-based organizations were given the opportunity to respond to the Royal Commission’s recent public hearing on Abuse in Care.
Jacinda Thompson suffered sexual harassment from her Anglican minister in the early 2000s, and she has provided evidence for the investigation.
She said that although abuse itself was condemned, most church leaders failed to accept responsibility for making it thrive in the first place.
Thompson had hoped the churches would respond by looking closely at themselves, their teachings, and the role churches played.
“I was sure the churches would know the value of genuine repentance and change. Without it, how could they expect to rebuild people’s confidence in their ability to keep people safe today?”
“For me, there wasn’t enough in-depth reflection by those organizations about how this all came about. There seemed to be a lot of deflection, blame, apology, minimization.”
She said there was a terrible history of abuse in faith-based institutions.
“A lot of Christian education played a part in the abuse that took place.”
“Things like unmarried mothers who are seen as a great sin and therefore ashamed to surrender their babies to institutional care. Things like biblical teaching, don’t spare the rod, you have to beat your kids to make them behave. Where did those ideas come from? That’s what the church really needs to look at.”
“The hierarchy of churches, where you have men in these great positions of great power where they automatically gain tremendous respect, makes it very difficult for a survivor to speak because they will always feel like they are not going to believe.” .”
“Faith-based institutions could have made a little more effort to understand how, by looking seriously at the impact of their own teaching. They need to be honest about the part that has played in New Zealand’s shameful history of abuse in care, not just because of liability reasons, but because there is a very real risk that this influence is still having an effect today.”
She said there have been some changes within churches, but they have been very slow.
“I see these organizations saying we’ve put in place a good complaints procedure or we now have this policy that says this and so on, but while they’re a step in the right direction, they don’t actually prevent abuse.”
Thompson said that while some churches have spoken to survivors who said they agreed with the idea of an independent body to hear complaints and decide on recovery, they did not state this during the investigation.
“There didn’t seem to be the humility to say, ‘We can’t do this, we need to have independent oversight’. There was more that we are now coming up with a new process. Which is not independent.”
She said it should be mandatory for churches to partner with a new entity.
Thompson wants an independent body to have powers to monitor the work of churches and decide on remedial action.
She said it could be similar to how the Education Review Office examines schools.
“No one goes into churches to see what’s happening here. You can’t jump on the line and see what kind of appreciation this church has, where they fail, what their problems are.”
“There’s just no overview of whether the care is safe or not that faith-based institutions provide, and they take some very vulnerable people through the doors of churches into all sorts of programs, with no agency looking at what’s going on in those programs and whether they are safe.”
Thompson said a new entity, as recommended by the Abuse in Care study, was essential because survivors don’t trust faith-based groups to do the right thing.
“History has really broken that trust and churches have done little to restore it.”