BBC 4 on Monday 8.7.13 had a documentary called Silence in the House of God: Mea Maxima Culpa. Having complained two days ago
about bloated TV programmes, this was 90 minutes long and compelling
throughout. The main story concerned a priest who abused boys at
a USA school for the deaf over decades and the local hierarchy's abject
failures to deal with what they knew about. The role of the
Vatican was also examined and not least that of popes and in particular
Cardinal Ratzinger as pope and before his elevation. Review of the film.
item started as an entry on 13 June 2013. I have started it as a page
in its own right as I expect to add to it from time to time.
of the documentary's many interesting reports was of anger among the Irish bishops
after the Vatican blamed their lack of leadership for the many scandals
when in fact they were following the prescriptions of Rome regarding the handling of sexual abuse to the
letter. Two former US priests appeared who were highly critical of the church. Richard Sipe
has studied sexuality among the clergy and long ago had tried to warn and
prepare the church to tackle sexual abuse of children by its clergy. A report
written by Sipe states, "...by 1976 Dr. Bartemeier and I were
able to estimate that 6% of all Catholic priests and religious involved
themselves with minors. If we could know, I believe the bishops knew as
Patrick J. Wall
spoke of working as a sexual abuse "fixer" for a diocese, but gave up
when he realized the church was not interested in protecting
Father Thomas Doyle,
who warned the Catholic hierarchy of the seriousness of sexual abuse
within the church 30 years ago, spoke of regularly appearing as an
expert witness to help abuse survivors. He regards such work as helping
the church because the people and not the ordained are the church.
and I had recorded the programme and watched
it last night. It made me curious about sexual abuse by the clergy in
New Zealand and in particular by the Marist order. I have long been
aware of the stories of sexual abuse by the clergy in the UK,
Ireland, the USA and Australia, but what about where I went to
school between the ages of 10 and 17?
I attended a school
run by the Society of Mary (Marist) Brothers (clergy who are not
ordained) in Thorndon, a part of central Wellington, after my
arrived in New Zealand in 1960. Fortunately, I was only there for a few
weeks before we moved to a suburb. The school frightened me. It bore no
resemblance to the Catholic primary that I had attended in
England, which was well resourced, in a modern building and had a sense
of order that boosted my learning. The brother teaching my class had
little control other
than through much use of corporal punishment and the boys seemed to
pick up and replicate the violence more than learning. The school
I then went to, Petone Convent, was strict, but far from chaotic.
I did well in the two years spent there thanks to its nuns.
the sisters taught a little too well. It was my misfortune to win a
scholarship to New Zealand's oldest Catholic secondary school, St
Patrick's College in Wellington, rather than following my older brother
to the local state secondary. (My younger two brothers also went
to state secondary schools.) I have few good memories of St Pat's. Bullying
was commonplace and many of the teachers unqualified if not unsuited to
teaching. Few had attended a teacher training college. I was taught by two of the three lay teachers and found them
competent. The other teachers were Marist priests. One, a maths teacher
was exceptionally well qualified and enthusiastic. But a number
of the teachers had gone from school to seminary to teaching.
Despite a daily class in Christian Doctrine, I was
an atheist by the time I left after four years. Rather than continue in
the upper-sixth to get funding for university study, I worked for two
years to put myself through university.
Among the St Pat's staff while I attended between 1963 and 1966 was Father Fred Bliss.
St Pat's had been a
boarding school. Long before I arrived the boarding part became a
separate school twenty miles away, called St Patrick's Silverstream
after the suburb of that name. Most
of the Silverstream staff were Marist priests during the 1960s and 1970s.
What I found on line last night was that a priest called Alan Woodcock,
ordained in 1972, had abused students at Silverstream and been allowed
to continue teaching there by Father Bliss. I have summarised the
details below based mostly on
Source A Source B Source C
Source D Source E Source F and Source G.
many of the newspaper accounts relevant to Woodcock that are no longer
available from publishers have been posted on line by the Peter Ellis website, which I recommend to anyone seeking information about sexual abuse of children in NZ.
avoid any misunderstanding, let me make clear here that my issues with
Woodcock have nothing to do with him being gay. The issues that concern
me are paedophilia, abuse of positions of trust and the
mishandling of Woodcock as a sexual abuser by clergy in positions of leadership.
Woodcock was ordained as a Marist priest in 1972. His first known act of
sexual abuse occurred in 1978. The boy was in the fourth form
(age c. 15) at St John's College, Hastings, which was a Marist Father's school at the time. Woodcock enticed the boy
to come with him in his car to choose a location for a school trip. The priest removed the belt from the boy's pants and pulled
them down. However, the boy complained, telling him to stop. The boy
never said a word about the incident at the time, and Woodcock continued to be a
teacher, albeit a mediocre one.
A 1979 report by another
priest described Woodcock's teaching ability at St John's as
"rather undistinguished ..."The opinion of the staff was that he had
much to give but lacked in confidence and the ability to organise
himself." Despite his ability as a musician and composer, "even
in this area he was disappointing".
help Woodcock improve his skills, he was posted to Christchurch in 1979
and enrolled at university to study music.
One might well ask why the
university rather than teacher training as he already had expertise in
music and was a lousy teacher?
then aged 31, picked up a
17-year-old youth in Cathedral Square and offered him a ride home.
Instead, he took him to Canterbury University's chaplaincy's
residence and indecently assaulted him. The police became
involved. Woodcock was convicted
and given a suspended sentence. Woodcock's
counsel told the court there was a psychiatric background to the
offence and succeeded in getting the court to suppress his client's
name, but not his occupation.
show the church knew of Woodcock's court case. The Society of Mary's then
Provincial (leader in NZ), Father Delaney, wrote to the
court offering church support for Woodcock.
years later, by which time Woodcock's history of abuse as a paedophile
as a Marist teacher was long established, a lawyer for the victim
of the assault said, "We would have thought that addressing the needs
of the victim ... would be a priority but ... our dealings with the
society (the Marists) seem to be treated as an annoyance... We
find it unacceptable ... for a victim to have to wait two years and for
the victim to have to... continually push the issue."
year after the sexual assault, 1980, Woodcock was moved to Wellington, where he was appointed to
a parish church and attended university to complete his music
At the end of 1981, he was appointed to St Patrick's College in
Silverstream. While there, he abused several boys, enticing them to his
bedroom with cigarettes, pretending friendship and concern. Reports refer to oral sex, masturbation, fondling and groping. Students called him Penis Radiata.
assume this is a pun derived from Woodcock's surname and pinus radiata,
one the most common trees in NZ. Latin was taught at the school and the
boys would have known that in this language pinus is pronounced
However, boys at the school also ostracised those they though had been molested by Woodcock. Karl du Fresne,
a journalist and St Pat's Silverstream old boy, who spoke highly of
the school in general described the climate he thinks assisted
St Pat's had a fatal flaw, it was that it could be cruel and
unsympathetic to loners and outsiders. Any boy suspected of homosexual
inclinations, for instance, was likely to be subjected to merciless
taunting. In such an environment, it's easy to see how someone like
Woodcock could identify potential victims. Lonely and vulnerable
juveniles naturally attract the attention of paedophiles. Not only are
they are likely to be grateful for any friendly interest shown in them,
but they are less inclined to seek help when things turn nasty. To
complain to someone else would deprive them of the one source of
apparent kindness in their lives. To dob in the abuser would also risk
even greater alienation from their fellow pupils, especially in an
environment fiercely intolerant of homosexuality."
of his victims complained in 1982 to then college rector, Father
Curtain. Reports in 2004 suggest there were several complaints to the
college. A report in 2002 speaks of "three complaints". Another
says, "When some of the victims did complain, the school head, Father
... Curtain, said he would investigate, but they [students] were instead
confronted by Woodcock."
A confidential memo on August 22 1982 by Father Curtain to Father
Bliss, the Provincial at that time, outlined the actions taken by the church
and school after the complaint.
The memo said that Woodcock had put "the
name, reputation and future of the school in serious jeopardy".
Note that in NZ, August is midway through the school year
and that Bliss has been the rector of Silverstream between 1974 and
Curtain wrote of being placed in an invidious position when
dealing with certain boys. "My hands were tied. Thus, in a recent
stealing inquiry, if I had judged that one boy (who had stolen and
lied) merited expulsion, I could not have done so for fear of the
consequences. One other boy told me that he had already spoken to his
parents about certain alleged indiscretions that had taken place with
Curtain went on to outline "certain
precautions" that Woodcock had to take. These included: leaving the
door to his bedroom open if a boy needed to see him, "unless the visit
is of a confessional nature or a similarly private matter". Before the
rules were imposed, though, Woodcock had dealings with another boy, a
15-year-old sent to him for counselling!
Why he was allowed to
have any boy in his room after the allegations at Silverstream became
known and in the light of his court case has never, as far as I can tell, been explained.
Father Curtain also wrote to the Bliss, "Finally, I suggested that, to cover any possible eventuality, he should make immediate moves to acquire a passport."
an interview with police in 1995, Father Curtain said Woodcock's antics
came to his attention after a complaint from a boy. "I
rang the provincial (Bliss) and said that, true or not, the allegations
meant that Alan Woodcock should be moved. The provincial said that he
would shift him."
But Woodcock was allowed to complete
the 1982 school year at Silverstream.
by the authorities why the complaint was never followed up, Father Curtain
said: "I suppose there were two reasons. There was a different climate
of opinion in those days, (we) didn't expect those things to happen,
and whether the allegations were true or false, action had been taken
by shifting him and giving him the guidelines".
how Curtain was prepared to expel a student for stealing and
lying, but the order were far more lenient with a paedophile priest.
1983, Woodcock was appointed to Highden Novitiate, near Palmerston
North, a Marist-run centre for young men considering the priesthood.
many of the postulants would have come straight from
Woodcock was transferred to protect his name, Father Curtain replied:
"Ahhh . . . yes". The direction to get a passport "would have been the
normal course in those days to take; if we wanted someone to get
counselling or help in this area . . . the places to go for counselling
were overseas," he told police.
a letter advising Woodcock of his new appointment, Father Bliss said he
hoped Woodcock would take the opportunity to seek "that specialist help
in Palmerston North that you need". He then thanked him for the
contribution he had made to Silverstream.
Silverstream school yearbook ran a glowing tribute. "Father Woodcock's
stay at Silverstream has proved all too short... 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."
Imagine how the abused boys and the parents who knew of the crimes felt reading that.
Highden, Woodcock continued to offend, revisiting boys he had abused or
met at Silverstream. In 1984, the church moved him to Futuna, a Marist run
retreat centre in Karori.
Futuna offered retreats for a range of
groups. There is no reason to believe Woodcock would never have
encountered young men if not boys there. And as Karori is a suburb of
Wellington, he would have found it easy to travel by public
transport to see at least day students or former day students
At Futuna, Woodcock befriended a teenage
boy and his parents. Woodcock became a regular guest at the family's
home. The boy's parents noticed a dramatic change in their son, and
eventually he disclosed that Woodcock had sexually abused him.
1985, Woodcock was sent back to Highden. The next year, in
February 1986, Woodcock was sent to Sydney for counselling to
help him cope with his homosexuality and associated depression. After
almost 12 months of treatment, he returned to New Zealand in December
of that year and went back to Futuna. There he developed
relationships with two 16-year-old boys who worked as volunteers at the
During the year, the boys' parents approached the
order's new Provincial, Father Connolly, and said Woodcock had
abused their sons.
According to Father Duckworth in 2002
speaking as the then new Provincial, 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 for Woodcock was a psychotherapy
programme in Ireland and he sent him there and told him he would
never again exercise ministry. Woodcock was banned from practicing ministry in 1987 after even more allegations arose.
arrived in Ireland in 1988 and worked with a specialist
priest counsellor. Woodcock lived with fellow Marists to begin with and did voluntary work with drug addicts
Why allow him access to such a vulnerable group!?!
1990, he moved to London and took a job as a crisis intervention
counsellor for passengers and staff at Heathrow Airport.
At the time of his arrest in the UK he was a practice teacher for
1994, a former Silverstream student, Terry Carter laid a
complaint with the NZ
police about Woodcock. The year after that, another old boy of the
college came forward, complaining that Woodcock had abused him in 1982.
Woodcock refused a request by Interpol for an interview about the
complaints and the matter was left till Mr Carter settled a
six-year civil court case with the church. Publicity
surrounding the settlement in 2002 brought forward more Woodcock victims and
police sought to extradite him from London. Woodcock fought extradition and delayed it for almost 18 months.
He told the
High Court in London: "I do not see how I can defend myself against
allegations that are so old. I have little recollection of dates and
times going back that far. I am not even able to recollect some of the
persons referred to . . ."
Woodcock pleaded guilty in Wellington in May 2004 to 21
charges of abusing 11 boys between 1978 and 1987 when he was teaching
at St John's, Silverstream and Highden and while holding a post
The policeman in charge of
the case, Detective Sergeant Murray Porter, said, though many of
Woodcock's victims have come forward, he believed there are many more
who had not. It was unlikely that the full extent of Woodcock's
offending would ever be revealed.
The Society of Mary had settled with 10 or Woodcock's known victims by 2004.
2004, Terry Carter called on the police to pursue anyone who knew about
the offending but did not stop it or report it. Asked in the same year whether anyone
else might be charged, Detective Sergeant Porter said the
authorities would be reviewing the file shortly.
It appears no further action was taken.
Carter went to the media in 1994 the church consulted a senior New Zealand
judge, Peter Trapski who was a Silverstream old boy and trustee. In a 1994 church document, Judge Trapski is
reported to have advised the church to place "confidential material"
about Woodcock into his employment file but within a separate envelope
labeled secret. Trapski told the church he believed it would be
restricted in responding to the media allegations by a 1979 suppression
order on Woodcock's conviction for sexual assault.
Trapski received a papal knighthood from the Vatican in 1995.
Karl du Frense described Trapski's
when the church seeks help in its clumsy efforts to minimise the
damage, it screws up. In the case of Woodcock, the church apparently
sought the advice of staunch Catholic layman and former St Pat's pupil
Peter Trapski, a former chief District Court judge and member of the
Waitangi Tribunal. But it seems Mr Trapski's own judgment may have been
sadly clouded by feelings of loyalty to church and school.
main concern, judging by what has been reported, seems to have been to
minimise the harm to the school. A more detached adviser might have
been less inclined to pussyfoot around.
2002, Terry Carter was scathing about the Society of Mary's handling of
his complaints laid several years earlier over abuse that took place
while he was a schoolboy at Silverstream.
Carter says he was
terrorised and repeatedly caned by one priest at the school and was
sent for counselling to Woodcock. When Carter first approached the
Society of Mary "they flatly denied everything" He took them to
court and spent NZ$20,000 on legal fees. They settled with him by paying
Carter was still bitter in 2002. "They
are the last people that should be organising their own investigation,
because they're the people doing it and covering it up. There's
cover-ups on the cover-ups. They've lied the whole way through the
I can find no evidence on line that those who hid
Woodcock's crimes and provided the paedophile with further
opportunities to use his status as a priest and a teacher to abuse have faced charges or made public apologies as
Woodcock was paroled in 2009.
has been a professor of ecumenical theology since 1992 at the
Angelicum Pontifical University
in Rome, where he also obtained his doctorate. Part of Angelicum's work
is preparing men for the priesthood. As Bliss became a
professor, it appears his career has not suffered as a result of
the way he knowingly exposed boys to the risk of abuse by
Compare the handling of Woodcock with the work of Father Maurice Crocker in Australia. In 1993, Crocker ensured that abuse by fellow clergy was dealt with.
Marist Bothers in Australia have had a similar scandal to that launched by
Woodcock. Brother Kostka, a prolific sexual offender, was allowed
to remain at Marist College in Canberra for six years after the
first complaint to the headmaster in 1986. Source
||Fred Bliss SM
The image appears in The Marist Messenger March 2013
The Marist Messenger is a "national devotional magazine, published by the New Zealand Province of the Society of Mary".
In 2002, the Catholic Church in New Zealand acknowledged the following payouts to victims of sexual abuse by priests and brothers.
Marist priests - $110,000 in total to five people who alleged they had been abused by three priests.
Marist Brothers - $140,000
to victims of five brothers, including $50,000 to two victims of
Brother Bryan McKay, former principal of Marist Intermediate School in
John of God Brothers - $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
a Marist brother was jailed in
New Zealand for sexual offences in the 1970s involving his students at
a boarding school.
Post Script 24.2.14
today a report from the New
Zealand Herald in May 2004 that highlights the role played
by the two sisters of Alan Woodcock in his return to New
The article also includes the following.
phone number given to him by one sister, Detective Sergeant
Murray Porter rang the one-time Marist priest turned music
therapist and counsellor turned unemployed shoe salesman. Mr
Porter told him New Zealand police were going to extradite him
to face charges for sex crimes against 11 boys between 1978 and
He had two choices - go back to Britain to await extradition, or
stay where he was and risk time in a Greek jail while police
dealt with authorities in Athens.
Woodcock, Mr Porter recalled this week, did not say much during
that phone call out of the blue one night in August 2002.
But soon he was flying back to London on a ticket paid for by
Friends in Britain, where he had lived since 1990, had sent him
to Greece for a break because they feared for his mental health,
partly in light of the re-emergence of allegations against him.
Woodcock's London lawyer
claimed in court c. August 2002 that he had not fled Britain
after learning of the extradition order, but had gone to Greece
temporarily on a one-way ticket because he had become suicidal
and to fight a heroin addiction.
Who were these
did they send someone who was distraught to a country
where he might expect less support and encounter language
difficulties if his mental health deteriorated? Are addicts
better helped by going abroad?
Although Woodcock at this point had yet to be found guilty by a
court, why didn't these friends give more weight to the
possibility he was guilty and consider
the needs, including mental health, of those making the
allegations against him? After all, extradition requires
evidence and countries do not waste resources on overseas courts
without some confidence in the outcome,
with the exception of
politically-motivated cases and nothing suggested this applied
to Woodcock. If anything, the New Zealand authorities had given
him and the Catholic Church an easy ride by letting the case
slip for so long.
While I have no
way of knowing the motives of those who assisted Woodcock to
travel to Greece, I would like to be reassured that their help
had nothing to do with fearing Woodcock would crack and reveal
that he had continued to sexually abuse minors with one or more
of the supporters.