By Michael Hall of RNZ
The principal of a Northland Catholic college is pushing to know why a predator priest was sent to his school to take up the role as rector there in the 1970s.
Pompallier College principal Richard Stanton told RNZ a past pupil approached him to say he had been raped at the school.
He is urging others abused to come forward for help and redress after the sexual abuse by the priest was brought to the attention of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.
It is understood at least one complaint of abuse by deceased Marist priest Father Phil Roberts has been received by the Commission.
Father Roberts became principal at Pompallier College in Whangārei during the late 1970s and early 1980s, after being principal at St Augustine's College in Whanganui.
Stanton said he recently met with Pompallier's Board of Governors and had made it clear he would be looking for answers directly from his priest's religious order over what they knew prior to Father Roberts taking up a role as principal at the school.
"It seems they had clear knowledge of the abuse, so why was he moved to our school?," Stanton said.
"I assume it was known back then of his abuse while he was at St Augustine's, before he was moved here."
He said a parent at Pompallier had previously approached him and told him he'd been raped by a priest during his own time as a pupil at the college.
The man hadn't named Father Roberts, but Stanton estimated by the parent's age he would have been at the school the same time as Father Roberts.
"I'm confident those things are linked," he said.
There had been rumours for decades that Father Roberts had abused children at Pompallier, including at the boarding school, which closed in the early 1980s. It is understood Father Roberts had resided at the boarding school for a period.
Stanton said he would like any apology from the Society of Mary - the priest's religious order - to include a recognition of the damage the abuse had inflicted on the wider Northland community, as well as survivors.
"It's been a long time coming to get this addressed ... The community has lost a lot of trust and it's my personal view that there should be an acknowledgement of that in any apology by the Marist Fathers - recognising that community harm," he said.
He urged anyone affected by the priest's predatorial behaviour to come forward for redress and support.
"My position is absolutely clear, I'm encouraging people to come forward and get the support they need."
Father Roberts had started his teaching career in 1952 at St Bede's College in Christchurch and ended it at St Patrick's College, Cambridge Terrace, in Wellington in the mid-1980s, after being sent there from Whangārei. He died in 1986.
A man, who RNZ has agreed not to name, said his deceased brother-in-law was a victim of Father Robert's sexual abuse while a pupil at St Bede's in the mid-1950s.
He said the abuse came to light during a school reunion attended by Father Roberts, who was aggressively confronted by his brother-in-law at the function.
"Roberts denied he could even remember him," he said.
Afterwards, his brother-in-law had a conversation with a friend who revealed he hadn't been the only one abused.
"They started talking and both of them discovered they had been abused by the same priest, Phil Roberts," he said.
RNZ can reveal that in July 2018, the New Zealand head of the Society of Mary, provincial Father David Kennerley, was asked if the order had received any complaints of sexual abuse by Father Roberts. In an emailed reply Father Kennerley outlined Roberts' teaching career before asking the reporter if he was aware of any complaints.
When pressed in a second email whether any complaints were received, Father Kennerley didn't reply.
When RNZ asked Father Kennerley this week to explain why he didn't respond in 2018 and whether this amounted to concealment, he refused to comment and referred the query to a Catholic communications adviser.
Yesterday, the current Society of Mary provincial, Father Tim Duckworth, gave evidence at a Royal Commission of Inquiry hearing into how his religious order operated and had responded to sexual abuse complaints.
He told the Commission the Society of Mary prefers not to be part of the Church's complaint process, would rather go it alone, and would not give a formal apology to survivors at the hearing.
"To me an apology has to be made face to face," he told the inquiry.
When RNZ asked how many complaints the Society of Mary received about Father Roberts' offending, the dates these were received and whether the order had investigated abuse at the Whangārei boarding school, Father Duckworth released a statement through the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference press office.
It stated: "The Bishops and Congregational Leaders of the Catholic Church believe that every person has an innate human dignity, therefore regard all forms of abuse as unacceptable and indefensible, accept the responsibility to continue to act to stop abuse in the Church, listen to, learn from, and support survivors, act swiftly on complaints and follow them through, ensure action on accountability is followed through for those who are proven responsible for abuse, support the need for the Inquiry and actively cooperate with the Commission, and commit to ensuring transparency.
"All documents and other matters related to abuse by priests in the Society of Mary have been provided to the Royal Commission for Abuse in Care, in accordance with requests from the Commission. I will not be commenting in the media about matters before the Royal Commission."
An abuse survivor, known as Witness G, gave a statement to the Royal Commission last year that included reference to Father Roberts' alleged offending.
It read: "I was recently informed by an old school friend that Father Phil Roberts, the former principal of Saint Augustine's College, had indecently assaulted at least one pupil. He picked on a particular pupil, made them come back to school after hours for disciplinary reasons, and indecently assaulted them on more than one occasion. The victim is dead now and I don't think any complaint was ever made."
The Royal Commission of Inquiry did not reply to repeated requests to confirm it had received complaints against Father Roberts.
A eulogy for Father Roberts, given to staff and pupils at St Patrick's College in 1986 by Father Brian Wysocki, stated: "No one walks through life without influencing others. This man and this priest influenced a great number of people, especially in his school.
"His influence will continue in the lives of each and every one of you who have known him and loved him and respected him, and in the lives of those who, mindful of their weakness, will follow this call of Christ to priesthood and religious life."
Who was Father Phillip Roberts?
Roberts was born on the West Coast, educated by the Sisters of Mercy and won a scholarship to St Bede's College. In 1945 he entered the Society of Mary, being ordained as a priest seven years later, and returning to St Bede's College 11 years later.
Having graduated from the University of Canterbury, where he studied classics and English literature, he became spiritual director of the college and was also a rugby coach.
His career advanced further, becoming principal/rector of St Augustine's in Whanganui and then principal of Pompallier College in Whangārei in the late 1970s.
However, after leaving Pompallier, he took up a staff role teaching Latin and English literature at St Patrick's College, Wellington in July 1981.
He died in 1986.
Where to get help:
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334. (available 24/7)
• Better Blokes which provides peer support throughout Auckland, including a specific Pacific group.
• Male Survivors Aotearoa offers a range of confidential support at centres across New Zealand - find your closest one here.
• Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata: 0800 94 22 94 (available 11am - 8pm)
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.