Tears mixed with calls for healing as more than 50 people gathered in Dunedin to demand a new name for Kavanagh College last night.

The meeting was organised by former Kavanagh College pupils Christian McNab and Sam Murphy following ODT Insight revelations about sexual offending within the Dunedin diocese.

Much of the abuse occurred under the watch of Dunedin Catholic bishop at the time John Kavanagh, from whom the college took its name in 1989.

And, as current Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley watched from the audience, survivors and their supporters stood, one by one, to share their stories and join the call for a name change last night.


Among them was Paul Klemick, one of 16 boys believed to have been sexually abused by Ian Thompson, a former teacher at St Paul's High School - which later became Kavanagh College - in the 1970s and 1980s.

Klemick said he was supporting the name change because victims deserved ''justice''.

"This is a life sentence for me, for my parents, for my siblings and for my children.

"I want the rest of my life to be able to move forward from this, and not let it plague me."

Another man told the audience he was a ''proud Catholic'', but paedophiles within the church made that ''so hard''.

Kavanagh College was a ''wonderful institution'' but a new name was needed because of ''all this ugliness in the background''.

The wounds inflicted on the Catholic Church needed to be cleaned before they could heal, so it was time for ''Bishop Kavanagh to take one for the team''.

"His name is associated with one of the most terrible things that can be done to our community."


Dr Murray Heasley, from the Network of Survivors in Faith-based Institutions and their Supporters, said the ''unfortunate truth'' was Bishop Kavanagh bore ultimate responsibility for clerical sexual abuse under his watch.

Changing the name of the college would take courage, but would be ''extremely healing'' for survivors, he said.

Others came to last night's meeting to show support, including Robert Epere, an active gang member, who said he shared their suffering.

His own life of drugs, violence and crime stemmed from sexual abuse in state care, and all victims needed to be able to heal.

"Without that healing, we are not going anywhere."

Ken Clearwater, from the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, said survivors' past experiences could be triggered again by smells, sounds "or especially the collar'".

Forcing survivors to walk past Kavanagh College could be another trigger, and changing the name would support victims.

Graeme Donaldson, a retired Christian Brother, defended Bishop Kavanagh, saying he was ''a good man'' who helped save the Catholic education system in New Zealand.

McNab also told the crowd he had a ''wonderful'' time at Kavanagh College, but failing to change the name would send the wrong message and detract from the good work of teachers there now.

"A name change is a significant step towards the start of the healing process for the community."

An open letter being circulated would be delivered to the college board of trustees before their next meeting on October 30.

Board member Paul O'Neill told last night's meeting the decision was ultimately for Bishop Dooley to make, but the issue was being considered ''seriously''.

Survivors and supporters will gather at St Joseph's Cathedral at 10.30am today to tie ribbons to the cathedral's gates in a public show of support.