Presbyterian Church to launch inquiry into Dunedin historic abuse allegation

4 November 2022

After learning for the first time of deeply concerning historic allegations of a paedophile ring involving church parishioners in Dunedin, the Presbyterian Church immediately began planning an independent investigation. 

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand was alarmed and saddened on 19 October to hear at the Royal Commission public hearing for responses of faith institutions to abuse in care, of an allegation concerning one of Presbyterian Support Otago (PSO) children’s homes and a paedophile ring involving Presbyterian church parishioners. This was the first time the Church had heard of these very concerning allegations.

PSO and the Presbyterian Church are separate organisations. 

Rev Wayne Matheson, Assembly Executive Secretary of the Presbyterian Church, says the Royal Commission hearing was the first the Presbyterian Church had heard of these shocking allegations. 

“Immediately after learning of the allegations at the hearing, the Presbyterian Church began planning an independent investigation into the claims. Terms of Reference have been finalised together with the appointment of a senior King’s Counsel as an independent investigator. Once we have permission from the Royal Commission to allow access to material, our investigator can start her work.”

“Child abuse is illegal and abhorrent. Our Church believes that any form of abuse is totally unacceptable, and that any allegation of abuse must be investigated without delay,” Rev Matheson says. 

“If what we discover from this investigation challenges us, then with compassion, integrity, and openness we will address it. We will apologise, seek justice, and uphold Christian values and principles as we find ways to make amends and to learn.”

Because the Presbyterian Church is a separate entity from PSO, it can only investigate the allegations that relate to Presbyterian church members. 

PSO has confirmed it will support the Church in its investigation and any survivors who would like to provide information to or participate in the investigation.

If the Church’s investigation uncovers abuse and wrongdoing by Presbyterian church members, it will lay complaints through its own Church processes alongside (or following) whatever action Police may take.  

More broadly, the Church and PSO each encourage any survivors to come forward to them or the Royal Commission about any past experience with the Church or in the care of former children’s homes that were run by PSO.

ENDS

Notes to the reporter:

•    Presbyterian Support Otago is an autonomous entity from the Presbyterian Church with its own management structures. Presbyterian Support New Zealand is a federation of seven Presbyterian Support organisations, all managed and operated separately from the Church. 

•    The Church takes allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously, and Church policy provides that any allegations of a criminal nature are reported to the Police, and complainants are supported to do so. 

•    Keeping people safe – both in the church and in the community – is hugely important to us. The Presbyterian Church has robust policies concerning work with children and young people, including a Child Protection Policy. 

•    The Presbyterian Church has a zero tolerance towards abuse which is rigorously enforced. We know this historically has not always been the case at all our churches. 

•    Outside of this independent investigation, the Church has its own processes to give any person who has experienced, or has knowledge of, any form of harm in our Church an avenue to raise these matters and seek justice. 

•    The Presbyterian Church fully supports the Royal Commission. Back in 2018, our Church wrote to the government to ask that it extend the terms of reference for this Inquiry to include scrutiny of institutions where abuse has occurred with no state involvement. We welcome our inclusion in the Commission.