New Zealand bishop blamed for ‘ignorance’ in contact with abuse victims

— Bishop John Adams of Palmerston North said that his email to a survivors’ network had been misinterpreted.

The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, seat of the Bishop of Palmerston North.

By Bess Twiston Davies

A bishop in New Zealand was alleged to have accused clergy abuse survivors of “vitriol” after viewing their group’s Facebook page.

Bishop John Adams of Palmerston North wrote to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) saying that he had been “shocked to be honest at the level of vitriol, indeed an almost complete lack of charity” in comments left on their page.

Adams, who was ordained in the diocese last September, added: “Surely Catholic clergy have a right to both the just scrutiny, and the protection of the law.”

Dr Christopher Longhurst, national director of SNAP, said Adams had failed to engage with the network’s official website or in personal conversations with abuse survivors. He said Adams’ email revealed “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.”

The New Zealand news site The Scoop said Adams had asked SNAP for “assurances” before he would display posters for the network in his diocese, but never specified what this entailed.

A second site, Stuff, reported that Adams had said he remained open to working with SNAP, but his email comments had been misinterpreted, as he referred to a lack of charity on social media rather than from abuse survivors.

It reported Adams had ceased to communicate with SNAP after receiving an email which he interpreted as a threat concerning the network’s future Facebook posts.

Recently, Longhurst published a report analysing the Catholic Church’s response to abuse allegations in New Zealand.

Writing in the New Zealand theology journal, Stimulus, Longhurst said survivors had been “re-traumatised” by the Church’s official process to offering victims redress.

The National Office for Professional Standards was established in 2004 to implement the Church’s initiative for victims Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path To Healing (APTH).

Although created to “enable compassionate responses” to abuse allegations, Longhurst said the process led to “more harm to victims and survivors”. Some described it as an “inquisition” where they felt “put on trial”.

He added that Catholic Church officials in New Zealand have “failed to fulfil, and are not fulfilling their obligations to victims and survivors of clergy and religious sexual abuse under their own redress scheme”.

In 2023, SNAP wrote two open letters to Pope Francis, urging him to establish an external inquiry into the “authenticity” of the APTH scheme.

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