A New Zealand inquiry on Wednesday heard harrowing accounts from people who were abused as children while they were under the care of the Catholic Church, one of whom said he was shown a corpse in a hospital morgue by a priest to keep him quiet.
The livestreamed hearings are part of a wider Royal Commission of Inquiry that is looking into abuse in state care and faith-based institutions that is under way in the Pacific island nation.
An interim report on the inquiry released in Dec 2020 revealed that up to a quarter of a million children and young and vulnerable adults were physically and sexually abused in New Zealand’s faith-based and state care institutions from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
Wednesday marked the first of a seven-day hearing into abuse in the care of the Catholic Church, which has been rocked by decades of sex abuse scandals across the world.
The hearing focused on abuse by priests of the St John of God at three Catholic institutions in the South Island city of Christchurch – the Marylands School, the neighbouring St Joseph's orphanage and the Hebron Trust.
One survivor from Marylands School talked about how he endured abuse by child sex offender Brother Bernard McGrath for four years.
"After a while, I started to just adapt to the sexual things that happened at Marylands," Donald Ku said in his testimony.
"I was also threatened by Brother McGrath to keep quiet about what was going on. Once he took me to the hospital morgue and showed me a corpse as a way of silencing me," he said.
"The Church carries deep shame for this dark chapter of their history," lawyer Sally McKechnie, representing the bishops and congregational leaders of the Church, told the royal commission, referring to abuse at Marylands, the orphanage and the trust.
The Catholic Church acknowledged in its statement that McGrath is one of Australasia’s worst sexual offenders against children. He is currently serving a sentence of 33 years in prison in Australia after being convicted of 64 offences against 12 boys there.
Of the 42 priests at Marylands, 21 had abuse complaints against them, higher than the abuse claims made against St John of God priests in Australia.
A total of 537 boys, many with disabilities, attended Marylands and 144 reported abuse, although this was the "tip of the iceberg", the commission was told at the hearings.
The commission has so far heard about 1,686 experiences of abuse in 87 days of public hearing. It is expected to deliver a full report in June next year.