New Zealanders who were abused in Salvation Army children's homes as long as 70 years ago say they're still waiting to hear a public apology from the church.

A group of 45 people say they suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse for a period spanning four decades - between the 1940s and 1970s - at the hands of Salvation Army staff members.

The Salvation Army has not denied historic abuses took place in many homes run by the church, but it disputes claims it has not properly apologised.

One of its former officers, John Francis Gainsford, was found guilty in 2006 of three counts of rape and 22 counts of indecently assaulting minors at the Bramwell Booth Children's Home in Timaru in the 1970s.

He was paroled in February after serving a third of his 10-year sentence.

The group's call for a public apology comes in the wake of worldwide allegations of child abuse which have rocked the Catholic Church over recent months.

Several senior members of the Catholic Church have apologised for instances of abuse, including the Archbishop of Wellington, John Dew.

In 2006, Salvation Army Commissioner Garth McKenzie apologised to the group for the historic abuses during an interview on Radio New Zealand.

Lieutenant Colonel Lyndon Buckingham said that apology was one of "numerous" apologies made to abuse victims.

However, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army complainants, Jan Lowe, said none of the victims were warned of the apology announcement and they all missed hearing it.

"We've never seen or heard one (public apology)," she said.

"We felt if they did make a public apology it would clear the air for the people that had been abused and it would be a sign from them that even though it had taken a long time for them to (personally) apologise to us in writing that it would be a gesture of goodwill on their part."

Lt Col Buckingham said that locating and alerting every complainant prior to these public statements would have been impossible given that the Salvation Army did not have contact details of all those affected.

But Ms Lowe said the organisation had the address details of all complainants except for one, as letters from the Salvation Army had been sent to each of them apologising for the abuse they had suffered.

One girl was forced to wear a bedsheet as a nappy if she wet the bed and Ms Lowe knew of two boys who had been victim to sexual abuse by a senior officer, and she had been psychologically abused on many occasions while she was staying at Whatman house in Masterton in the 1970s, she said.

"There are loads and loads of stories like that," she said.

"The whole environment for me and most of us was one of fear."

Ms Lowe accused the organisation of trying to brush off her and then bully her into dropping her complaints when she first approached them in 2001 - an accusation the Salvation Army has strenuously denied.

The tactic was used against many other complainants, she said.

"When my lawyer first wrote to the Salvation Army...about the things that had happened to me at Whatman, they responded (via a letter from Phillips Fox Lawyers) saying those things were untrue and did not happen.

"If I withdrew my complaint they would not claim costs from me for the expenses they had been put to defending my complaint."

The Salvation Army also refused to speak with or apologise to another complainant before he died of cancer, Ms Lowe said.

"If that doesn't come under the category of bullying or putting people off, I would be interested to know how they would describe it."

Lt Col Buckingham denied the letter to Ms Lowe was in any way bullying and said it had simply stated Ms Lowe's claim might not be successful for several reasons, "including the Statute of Limitations".

But he said the Salvation Army had since changed its view on how claims should be addressed including removing the Statute of Limitations from the claims process, which allowed all claimants to proceed with compensation claims.

"Nowhere in the letter is it claimed that Jan Lowe is lying or that her claims would not be believed."

But the letter, obtained by NZPA, said: "The evidence we have obtained thus far refutes all allegations of abuse at Whatman in any event."

It was not until Ms Lowe went to the media in 2002 asking for other abuse survivors to contact her, and about 40 people replied, that they were able to start a class action against the Salvation Army.

It was then the Salvation Army agreed to interview each victim and later offered an apology in the form of a form letter to each complainant.

Ms Lowe said it took years to receive transcripts of their interviews, which were promised to be delivered within two weeks -- and only after intervention from National MP Nathan Guy.

Lt Col Buckingham denied the two-week time frame and said the reason it took two years for the transcripts to be delivered was because they had too few resources to transcribe the tapes in a timely manner.

A form letter was sent to the complainants' lawyers to ensure the complainants were satisfied with the content and wording, Lt Col Buckingham said.

He said when the complaints began coming into the Salvation Army the then Commissioner, Shaw Clifton, committed the Salvation Army to investigating and responding to each and every complaint, "and this commitment was, and continues to be, taken with the utmost gravity".

"This pledge included the requirement that the Salvation Army be transparent in its approach to complaints. Complainants were not asked to sign confidentiality agreements and were advised to obtain independent legal advice and make formal complaints to police where appropriate," Lt Col Buckingham said.

"What I can say is that fielding complaints and working with these people to try to resolve their hurt was a new and shocking and deeply saddening experience for The Salvation Army.

"Our processes were not perfect and it took time to deal with each and every case due to the scope and depth of the complaints and because the complaints often related to events several decades ago. But bullying and shirking our responsibilities were not, and are not, part of this process."

- NZPA