Sexual Abuse by New Zealand Clergy

This 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. 

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.

One 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, " 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 well."

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 victims.

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.

Sue 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 family 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.

Perhaps 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 
Source G. 

Fortunately, 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.

To 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.

Alan 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".

To 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?

Woodcock, 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.

Documents 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.

Seventeen 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."

The 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 degree. 

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.

I 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 penus.

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 Woodcock.

"If 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."
One 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 newspaper report 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 1980.

Father 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 him."

Father 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."

In 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.

Asked 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".

Note how Curtain was prepared to expel a student for  stealing and lying, but the order were far more lenient with a paedophile priest.

In 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 secondary school.

Asked if 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.

In 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.

The  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.

While at 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 from Silverstream.  

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.

In 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 retreat centre.

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. 

Woodcock 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!?!

In 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 social workers.

In 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.

However, 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 . . ."

Yet 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  at Futuna.  

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.

In 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.

When Terry 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 role  thus.

Even 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.

His 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.

In 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 him $45,000.

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 Woodcock case."

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 individuals.

Woodcock was paroled in 2009. 

Fred Bliss 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 Woodcock.

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.

The 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".
Alan Woodcock

Penis Radiata

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 Hamilton.

St 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 have died.

More recently,  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

I found 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 Zealand.

The article also includes the following.


Using a 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 1987.

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 his sister.

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 friends and why 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.