The Catholic Church is launching an independent inquiry after claims an offer of $5000 of "silence money" was made to a victim of a Marist brother's historic child sex offending.
On Friday, Kevin Peter John Healy, 81, who was known as Brother Gordon, was sentenced in the Napier District Court to nine months' home detention for sexually abusing three Wairarapa children.
Among them a victim who was a young girl back in the 1970s, who has spoken to Hawke's Bay Today exclusively about her experience instead of taking the church's money.
"The $5000 meant that I would not talk about what happened now, or in the future," she claimed.
"It was an offer to make me go away, silence money. So naturally, I am talking."
In February, Healy pleaded guilty to charges of indecency between a man and boys aged 12 and 13, and one of indecency with a girl aged under 12.
The girl was aged under 10 and the boys were of adolescent age at the time of the offending in 1976-1977.
It was revealed through the course of the sentencing he had previous convictions for similar offending in the 1970s.
The offending occurred when Healy was a member of the Marist Brothers in 1976 and 1977, in Wairarapa.
Healy was also a school teacher at the time.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was in primary school and Healy was a "trusted member of the clergy, to me and my family".
Known as Brother Gordon to her and her brother, who was also a victim, she said he was "particularly sneaky" about his assaults and he was psychologically abusive towards her about being "so ugly for a girl".
"He reiterated it each time he saw me. This torture has affected my entire life. My parents have suffered as they were members of our parish.
"Nothing seems to help them recover from the trust they gave to Healy in his position as a clergyman by allowing him to 'say our prayers' at night."
In one of his visit to her home he entered her bedroom one night, wrapped her in his arms and demanded a kiss.
Despite her fear she refused, responding only with a kiss on his cheek as he pinned her to her bed with his arm across her body, before he demanded a "proper" kiss and forcefully kissed her on the mouth for several seconds, after which he left the room.
At other times in saying good night to her brother, Healy would put his hand down the boy's pyjama pants.
She said the abuse was reported by her father to the parish priest and the school principal.
"At that time the Marist brothers taught and stayed on the school premises," she said.
"The church just moved Healy out of the school and area."
She said she spent years trying to get traction with the case.
"Healy denied even knowing our family, let alone sexually assaulting us. He was officially asked by the Catholic Church back in 2003 after I had been through the reconciliation process offered by the church at that time," she said.
"Healy, who was known to me as Br Gordon, denied everything. I then, after much anguish, went through the legal system resulting in charges being laid."
The process started three to four years ago, with Healy stalling the justice system.
The church was also not willing to take any action during the process, she said.
"The church decided to take up the statute of limitations law which states that I had until I was 10 years old to bring a case to the church.
"It is a ludicrous law which is no longer in use in Australia as with historical clergy, sex abuse in children is more often than not hidden until that child is older.
"It is a law that needs to change in NZ and I'm hoping my voice can be heard so all abuse sufferers do actually have a voice."
In February 2020, a change of heart led Healy to enter guilty pleas to the charges he was sentenced for on Friday.
"A guilty plea finalised the years of frustration, trauma and stress."
The Catholic Church, however, did not accept any responsibility, she said.
"They offered a $5000 token if I signed a waiver not to talk."
She said through it all she could not fault the effort, compassion and care the police had shown her and her family.
"The thing is as a victim we are called over and over again to be brave, have a voice but in reality, my experience has been one of the Catholic Church trying to shut me down at every opportunity.
"Yes I'm still a practising Catholic. However, my church has turned its back on me. So opening my mouth to seek justice has been a very difficult journey."
The Catholic Church's National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS) director Virginia Noonan said the Marist Brothers religious order had asked her to arrange an independent review after Hawke's Bay Today's inquiries.
"The review will look how the Marists dealt with her complaints which will include the circumstances relating to the offer of an ex-gratia payment of $5000.
"It will look at all aspects of how the Marists dealt with her complaints of being abused as a child by Kevin Healy and Michael Beaumont in the 1970s, when they were Marist brothers and teachers in the Wairarapa," Noonan said.
Beaumont was sentenced in North Shore District Court in September 2019 to
home detention after pleading guilty to abusing three children in the 1970s.
Noonan said the female victim made formal complaints against the two men, including Healy, in 2003 to the Marist Brothers' own abuse protocol body, but the complaints were not upheld when the men denied them.
"Now that both men have admitted their abuse, including the abuse the victim complained of, it is highly appropriate to scrutinise the Marist investigation.
"I am pleased that the Marist Brothers have asked NOPS to arrange this independent
review of how her complaints were handled. It highlights an openness to review our own church processes.
"Hopefully, the review will go a long way to getting resolution for the victim for what has been a long, painful and distressing part of her life. The Church has zero-tolerance for harm and abuse."
NOPS is an agency of the Mixed Commission, a partnership between the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and Congregation Leaders Conference of Aotearoa New Zealand.
"We will get an outside reviewer to look thoroughly at what was done and not done
with the female victim's complaints," said Noonan.
"The church has nothing but compassion and regret for what happened to her. It is deeply disturbing that her ordeal has gone on for so many decades. We want to assure her that we will work with the Marist Brothers to address her very valid concerns."
Kevin Healy's post release conditions
- Not to associate with or contact with victims of your offending without the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.
- Not to associate or otherwise have contact with any person under the age of 16 years of age except in the presence and under the supervision of an "Approved Informed Adult".
- An "Approved Informed Adult" means a person who has been given prior approval in writing by a Probation Officer as being suitable for the purpose of the condition.
- Attend a psychological assessment with a departmental psychologist as directed by a Probation Officer and complete any treatment and/or counselling as recommended by the assessment to the satisfaction of a Probation Officer.