New Catholic Bishop Of Palmerston North John Adams Criticises Victims And Survivors Of Clergy Abuse

Catholic Bishop of Palmerston North, John Adams

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Aotearoa New Zealand has received several reports of clerical sexual abuse and church-based abuse from victims and survivors in the Catholic Diocese of Palmerston North.

SNAP invited the new Catholic Bishop of Palmerston North, John Adams, to get to know the survivors’ network. However, Bishop Adams responded: “I had a look at your Facebook page. I was shocked to be honest at the level of vitriol I found there, indeed an almost complete lack of charity.”

Bishop Adams then emphasised protecting his clergy instead of supporting the victims: “Surely Catholic clergy have a right to both the just scrutiny, and the protection of the law.”

SNAP is disappointed that Bishop Adams judged the survivors’ network by Facebook comments rather than by the official SNAP website or personal conversations with network members.

SNAP reports that Bishop Adams also asked for “assurances” from the network before he would offer support. It is not clear what the Bishop meant by “assurances,” however when asked to clarify, he did not respond.

SNAP reports that one of the biggest concerns when dealing with clerical sexual abuse is that those who bear the ultimate responsibility, who are obliged to support the victims, often blame the victims rather than the abusers.

SNAP canvassed some of its members for responses to Bishop Adams’ comments. The Bishop’s claim that the victims “lack charity” was especially upsetting. “What an unfair reaction, accusing survivors of lacking charity and using that to not support us,” one survivor said. Other responses SNAP received from its members are:

“The Bishop expects people who are carrying life-shattering trauma memories to speak in soft delicate tones.”

“If anyone dares to say how upset and angry they are about being sexually assaulted by a priest, then he calls that vitriol?”

SNAP reports that if Bishop Adams is judging the survivors’ network by comments people leave on the network’s Facebook page, then he also needs to look at Catholic Facebook pages around the world. He will then see that there are some “nasty and vindictive things” said on them too.

SNAP is aware that the Catholic Church in New Zealand has safeguarding standards which include listening to the abused. Bishop Adams’ reaction to an invitation to get to know a survivors’ network and support the abused, appears to be a violation of those safeguarding standards.

National leader for SNAP in Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr Christopher Longhurst stated in response to Bishop Adam’s comments:

“I think it is appalling that any church leader would criticise any victim of clerical child sexual assault or any church-related abuse, accusing them of a lack of charity, or asking for assurances before supporting them. This betrays an utter ignorance around trauma-informed response. Victims and survivors have suffered enough. They deserve unconditional support from all members of the church. Their anger is perfectly justified. It is the lack of charity from church leaders such as this bishop that is shocking.”

National leader for SNAP in Australia, Mr Donald McLeish, also responded to Bishop Adam’s comments:

“They do not realise the pain they have caused and continue to cause. I have no answer but to not expect support when it is not there. The bishop is saying, providing we stop the criticism he will cooperate. We cannot do that while the criticism is warranted.”

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