The Catholic Church in New Zealand has been forced to apologise for comments implying parents bore some responsibility for stopping clerical sexual abuse.

The statements by Monsignor John Harrison, of the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin, and Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn came in an Otago Daily Times article, published last week.

The article, detailing the abuses of former Dunedin priest Father Magnus Murray and his handling by the church, quoted Harrison describing how one Dunedin victim's complaints to his parents had been ignored.

"If that had been picked up - and I'm not casting any aspersions on the parents at all - that would have perhaps prevented a whole lot more," he said.

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The sentiment was echoed by Bishop Dunn, of Auckland, who said he found it "extraordinary that parents didn't go straight to the police in the 1970s and 80s".

The comments prompted a complaint from one survivor, who wrote to both men threatening further action if they did not apologise.

Murray Heasley, a member of a support network for survivors of faith-based abuse, also objected, saying the comments had caused "shock, astonishment and deep dismay".

Yesterday, Hamilton Bishop Steve Lowe, in an email on behalf of the New Zealand Bishops, apologised "unreservedly" for the comments.

"We sincerely regret the hurt these comments have caused to victims, survivors and their families."

Lowe did not elaborate, and nor did he, Dunn or Harrison respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Instead, in the email, Lowe offered to meet Heasley "to hear anything you wish to say to me about the matters raised in the ODT, and also to share with you my response and course of action".

Heasley said the comments had prompted "understandable outrage and disbelief", offending victims, survivors and their families, as both Harrison and Dunn carried "considerable clout".

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He was pleased the rest of New Zealand's bishops appeared "equally uncomfortable" with the pair's comments, and would accept Dunn's offer to meet and discuss his group's concerns.