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Accusations of Abuse in Institutions


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The Southland Times
September 1, 2003

Convicted priest left in 1972
by Rosemarie Smith

Gore -- The retired Roman Catholic priest who has admitted indecency charges dating back 45 years against four Dunedin boys originally came from Gore.

Father Magnus Murray, 76, admitted to 10 serious offences between 1958 and 1972 when he appeared in the Dunedin District Court on Friday and was remanded in custody.

One victim, now in his mid-50s, went public in July with allegations against the priest and music teacher his staunch Catholic family regarded as a trusted friend.

Former Gore parish assistant Father John Harrison, now of Port Chalmers, said Father Murray was educated at St Mary's School, in Gore, and at St Kevin's College, in Oamaru.

He was ordained in 1949, taught in Dunedin Catholic secondary schools and worked in parishes at St Clair and Mosgiel, but never held a Southland post.

Father Harrison, who was taught briefly by Father Murray at secondary school, said he understood Father Murray had been removed at the first hint of a problem in 1972, and went to Australia voluntarily for therapy.

He did not return to the Dunedin Diocese.

In those days, professional medical understanding was that treatment could be effective, he said.

Knowledge had moved on and the possibility of a cure was questionable, and now no one convicted of an offence would ever work in a parish again.

He could not explain why it took so long for Father Murray's serious offending to be detected.

"That's what we would like to know, too," he said.

From his own experience as a prison chaplain working with convicted paedophiles, he realised they operated very insidiously, from a position of trust, and seemed to choose victims who were vulnerable in some way.

He had been deeply shocked when one of his own close friends was convicted of an offence, having had no idea there was a problem.

People might feel upset and uncomfortable with how the church handled these matters in the past, but Father Harrison felt this reflected knowledge of the time.

While it was no excuse, other professions such as teaching probably operated in a similar manner, he said.

He also did not believe sexual problems experienced by priests was directly linked to celibacy, as there were many married men among convicted paedophiles.

Today's greater climate of openness around sexual abuse made it easier for problems to be addressed, he said.

Programmes teaching children how to keep themselves safe made it much more likely they would tell their parents about inappropriate adult behaviour, and for parents to listen.

Applicants for the priesthood were rigorously screened, including psycho-sexual assessment, and given more careful training about professional boundaries.

Addressing past issues was difficult but the church could not hide from them.

Catholic communications director Lyndsay Freer said the church now had a zero tolerance of sexual abuse.

"We say it's intolerable, abhorrent and there's no suggestion of covering up." Where allegations surfaced, the church preferred for them to be dealt with by the police, who had greater powers of investigation.

However, some complainants preferred for matters to be dealt with privately and the church was considering setting up an independent process for assessing cases.