The Catholic Church was aware paedophile priest Alan Woodcock had a previous sexual assault conviction before it made him a teacher at an Upper Hutt boys school.
When knowledge of his offending began to spread, a former chief district court judge - an old boy of the school - advised the church to keep it out of the public eye.
Woodcock yesterday pleaded guilty to 21 charges relating to the abuse of 11 boys between 1978 and 1987 when he was teaching at St John's College, Hastings; St Patrick's College, Silverstream; Highden, a school for young priests in Palmerston North; and Futuna, a Catholic retreat in Wellington. Thirteen other charges were withdrawn.
Woodcock was remanded in custody to appear in the Wellington District Court for sentencing on June 25.
Woodcock was extradited from Britain five months ago, after an 18-month court battle.
Documents reveal the church was aware before it appointed Woodcock to St Patrick's that he had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old youth in Christchurch in 1979.
Correspondence shows the church knew of the incident even before he was convicted.
Father Noel Delaney, then head of the Society of Mary of which Woodcock was a member, wrote to the court offering church support for the priest.
He was moved from Christchurch and after a spell at Victoria University was appointed to St Patrick's.
Court documents show that Woodcock made friends with boys, offered cigarettes and enticed them to his bedroom, where he performed indecent acts on them.
One victim describing his sexual appetite as "voracious".
After several students complained of abuse, the college advised Woodcock to get a passport.
It also set up a list of rules he had to follow such as not having boys in his bedroom with the door closed "unless the visit is of a confessional nature or a similarly private matter". At the end of that year he was quietly moved to Highden noviciate in Palmerston North.
When one of Woodcock's victims, Terry Carter, went to the media in 1994 the church consulted Judge Peter Trapski.
In a 1994 church document Judge Trapski is reported to have advised the church to place "confidential material" about Woodcock into his employment file but within a separate envelope labelled secret.
Judge Trapski told the church he believed it would be restricted in responding to the media allegations by a 1979 suppression order on Woodcock's conviction for sexual assault.
Judge Trapski retired from the Bench in 1989 and until 1993 was a member of the Waitangi Tribunal.
In 1995, he was appointed Judge Advocate General of the Defence Force, the same year he received a papal knighthood from the Vatican.
Judge Trapski could not be contacted yesterday.