When Father Alan Woodcock left after just a year at St Patrick's College, Silverstream, the school yearbook ran a glowing tribute.

"Father Woodcock's stay at Silverstream has proved all too short," it said. "He quickly established himself as a friend and confidant to those boys with an interest in music and others who came to recognise and appreciate his availability and sympathetic approach."

In fact, Woodcock was moved on from the Upper Hutt school after allegations of abuse by three boys.


It was the second time complaints had been made against him, but it was far from the last.

Cases like his have prompted NZ's bishops to make an unprecedented statement to the country's 480,000 Catholics. At Masses today and tomorrow, parishioners will hear a pastoral letter signed by all the bishops apologising to any victims of sexual abuse within the church.

During his 20 years as a Marist priest, Woodcock molested at least eight boys or young men. At least three times, senior figures in his order, the Society of Mary, were made aware of the allegations.

Each time, he was sent for treatment, but also moved on.

The order now admits it made serious mistakes in the way it dealt with Woodcock. It also says the police should have been called in.

"Certainly now we would immediately remove him from ministry, we would send him for assessment and treatment and he would never again return to ministry," the order's deputy leader, Father Tim Duckworth, said this week.

"We would also strongly recommend people to go to the police."

In the 10 years since Woodcock left the Marist priests, fresh complaints have been made against him and the order has set up an 0800 number for others who want to come forward.

Police are considering extraditing him from England to face charges.

He was a serial offender whose behaviour should have rung alarm bells. With the benefit of hindsight, the order admits that.

Woodcock was ordained a Marist priest in 1972. Between then and 1979, he worked at a variety of places, including Christchurch and a school in Hawkes Bay.

In 1979, Woodcock was convicted of a sex offence involving a man in Christchurch and received a suspended sentence.

"That was the first time we were aware he had those [tendencies]," said Father Duckworth.

Woodcock was moved to Wellington and sent to a psychologist. While receiving treatment, he went to Victoria University to study music.

With his music qualifications, Woodcock was sent to St Patrick's in 1982 - despite his conviction.

Father Duckworth said the psychologist had told the order there was every likelihood Woodcock could be rehabilitated.

But victims remain angry that he was allowed to work at St Patrick's.

During the year he was there, three sixth-form boys alleged Woodcock had fondled them. The principal, Father Vincent Curtain, asked the Marists' chief at the time, Father Fred Bliss, to remove Woodcock.

But Father Bliss decided to leave Woodcock at the school until the end of the year.

For the rest of his time at St Patrick's, Woodcock was put under closer scrutiny. He was subject to rules such as not having boys in his room with the door closed.

Before the rules were imposed, though, Woodcock had dealings with another boy, a 15-year-old sent to him for counselling.

The boy went to the police in the 1990s alleging abuse that went on even after Woodcock left the school. Police decided not to move against Woodcock at the time, but it is understood they may now extradite him.

After St Patrick's, Woodcock was sent to the Marist novitiate, a centre near Palmerston North, for training candidates for the priesthood.

One man who knew Woodcock said this week: "I don't know what they were thinking, sending him there - most of the guys who were training had come straight out of school."

In 1984, Woodcock was moved to the Marists' Fotuna retreat centre in Wellington. The following year, he returned to the novitiate.

It was during these years that another young man received unwanted attention from Woodcock. His allegations would not surface until the 1990s.

Woodcock was sent in 1986 to Australia to a hospital-based treatment programme for clergy struggling with their sexuality.

There, he was visited by a former pupil who would later allege that Woodcock groped him. The young man is one of five victims of abuse who have shared $110,000 in payouts from the order.

Woodcock returned to New Zealand in 1987 and worked at Futuna again. There he developed relationships with two 16-year-old boys who worked as volunteers at the centre.

During the year, the boys' parents approached the order's new leader, Father Grahame Connolly, and said Woodcock had abused their sons.

According to Father Duckworth, the father of one of the boys and a friend of the boy's family told Father Connolly they did not want to see Woodcock again.

"The friend of the father said, 'Do you understand what he means, Father [Connolly]? We want him out of the country'," said Father Duckworth.

"[Father Connolly] decided the best place to send [Woodcock] was a psychotherapy programme he found in Ireland and he sent him there and told him he would never again exercise ministry."

Woodcock lived with fellow Marists when he first arrived in Ireland, but he left in 1991 and found himself another job.

It is understood he trained as an art therapist and now lives in England.

The next formal contact with the order was several years ago when Woodcock was removed from the priesthood.

Since Woodcock left, there have been changes in the order, including the psychological screening of candidates and the assessment of individuals for ministry work.

Father Duckworth says the order now has strict policies that would prevent the same mistakes in handling sex abuse complaints being made again.

"In this day and age, we have risk assessments, and if I was to analyse the risks [of Woodcock] with the abilities I have, we would definitely do things differently," said Father Duckworth.

* The 0800 number the Society of Mary has set up for any victims of abuse or their families to come forward will operate from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. The number is 0800-SMHELP (0800-764357).