Broken and dangerous men in need of repair, they fly across the Tasman in search of healing.

A ride through the suburbs of Sydney takes them to the leafy grounds of a private psychiatric hospital.

This is where Catholic brothers and priests have been confronting the demons that have troubled them and stirred the entire church.

Encompass Australasia, a treatment and assessment centre set up by the church in Australia, specialises in dealing with clergy who admit serious failings, including sexual abuse.

Clergy from New Zealand are among those undergoing treatment.

Where the Catholic Church would once simply shift a sex offender to another community, it now sends him to Australia for treatment and removes him from public ministry.

Dr Tony Robinson, a clinical psychologist and chief executive of Encompass, says the programme shows the church recognises that sexual abuse is a serious dysfunction, not just a spiritual failing.

"That was a really regrettable thing and I think that bishops historically would have thought of it that way because that was their training," says Dr Robinson.

"Now they realise this is criminal behaviour."

Encompass was set up in 1997 by the Australian church and is now run as an independent service for all denominations and even non-clergy.

It has a six-month treatment programme for people with serious psycho-sexual disorders.

"We give them skills so they don't offend again," says Dr Robinson.

Support groups and behavioural contracts also make sure that once the offender returns to New Zealand, he does not relapse.

Rodger Smith, a counsellor who worked on a New Zealand inter-denominational group designed to prevent sexual abuse within churches, says the Catholic Church's change in attitude reflects what has happened in other religions.

"The awareness 10 years ago was very low and the protocols were almost non-existent," he says.

Almost all major denominations now had protocols for dealing with sexual abuse.

Mr Smith, who has treated sexual abusers including priests, has examined the reasons behind abuse.

"One of the issues may be around how the church allows their clergy to be human - and I don't mean necessarily sexual," he says.

"The church has put the clergy on a pedestal."

This diminishes their ability to have good relationships with others.

One priest Mr Smith counselled had no normal contact with people. "You can't then just make an automatic leap and say that therefore entitled him to abuse youth but it is one of the broader issues."

It is also difficult for priests to admit within the church that they are having sexual fantasies, Mr Smith says.

"Do you go and admit that to someone and then risk being defrocked? Are there people within the church who would understand the issues if you did take it to them?

"There's a big learning curve needing to go on within the church around this."

John McCarthy, the director of Safe, an intensive treatment programme for sex offenders, says at least five priests have used the service.

He believes that is only the tip of an iceberg.

"I don't know how big the iceberg is, but that would not be all the clergy in the Auckland diocese who have abused," says Mr McCarthy.

He says denials that there is a crisis within the priesthood over sexual abuse beggars belief.

"If within any profession there were people sexually abusing children in the numbers that are reported, I'm unclear how you could call that anything else."

The Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn, says the priesthood is scandalised by what has gone on, but is taking it in its stride. "My impression is that we are all very saddened but the morale seems to be quite high."

The church has made many changes to the way it deals with sexual abuse allegations, Bishop Dunn says.

Last year, it updated protocols for handling complaints so allegations could be dealt with in a uniform and thorough manner.

Complaints are sent to six diocesan committees, which are empowered to investigate allegations and uphold the principle that any attempt to sexualise a pastoral relationship is a betrayal of trust, an abuse of authority and professional misconduct.

Where complaints are upheld, the offender is sent for assessment and removed from public ministry.

Dr Ian Lambie, a senior lecturer in psychology at Auckland University, says that when abuse is discovered, the church should make sure it is not kept secret.

"It needs to be identified to the whole church community, rather than just kept within maybe a small number of people.

"I'm not saying 'out them' exactly, but make sure they are in an environment where they don't have contact with kids and they are getting treatment."

At Encompass, Dr Robinson says he believes that the church in New Zealand has handled sexual abuse issues better than has been done in other countries, probably because the smaller population means bishops are closer to their communities.

Although Bishop Dunn says morale is high among priests, he also admits that the issue has changed the way some deal with their congregations, especially children.

"Much like in the teaching profession, priests have to be prudent - everyone wants to make sure that anything they do can't be misinterpreted."

A Wellington priest, Father Tim Duckworth, says the scandal of sexual abuse does sometimes make priests uncomfortable.

"When you walk down the street, you can feel that people are looking at you [as if you are guilty]. Then you get people you taught asking you to celebrate their wedding for them, and you realise not everybody thinks that, but it's hard.

"Those who always thought we were creeps will always think that, but I think the vast majority of people realise that this is just a small minority."


Payouts made to the victims

Body1: Catholic orders have made payouts to victims of sexual abuse by priests and brothers. These payments include the following:


(Marist priests and brothers)

$110,000 in total to five people who alleged they had been abused by three priests. The payments were for counselling as well as recognition of suffering. Two of the priests were dead at the time the complaints were made and the other left the order.


$300,000 paid out to five people who made allegations against four brothers, none of whom remain active in the order. One of the brothers, who is retired, strongly denies the allegations against him. Another, Brother Kevin McGrath, served prison sentences in New Zealand and Australia for sexual abuse. The other two have died.


$140,000 to victims of five brothers, including $50,000 to two victims of Brother Bryan McKay, former principal of Marist Intermediate School in Hamilton.