The Catholic Church in New Zealand has appointed an experienced independent investigator to look at whether the former Bishop of Dunedin, Bishop John Kavanagh, took proper action when he received complaints of sexual abuse.
The Metropolitan Archbishop of New Zealand, Cardinal John Dew, has instructed the Church’s independent complaints body – the National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS) – to investigate Bishop Kavanagh’s handling of abuse complaints while Bishop of Dunedin from 1957 to 1985.
NOPS has appointed Christchurch senior investigator Micky Earl of the firm Corporate Risks to conduct the investigation.
Cardinal Dew said a number of victims of abuse in the Dunedin diocese had complained that Bishop Kavanagh – who died in 1985 – had not properly dealt with their complaints of sexual abuse by priests.
Cardinal Dew referred the concerns about Bishop Kavanagh to Rome under a decree Pope Francis issued in May 2019. The decree, titled Vos estis lux mundi or You are the light of the world, requires the Metropolitan Archbishop of a country to inquire into and report to Rome any serious allegations against a bishop.
“The decree was intended to ensure bishops and other senior religious people are held properly responsible for their actions,” said Cardinal Dew.
“I was advised by Rome that the complaints about Bishop Kavanagh’s handling of abuse complaints do not come within Rome’s scope because he is deceased. I therefore instructed NOPS to undertake an investigation under our Church protocol for matters of abuse, A Path to Healing.
“Mr Earl is a very experienced investigator,” said Cardinal Dew. “The scope of his investigation will focus on understanding what information Bishop Kavanagh held regarding complaints of sexual abuse, and whether he met his obligations as Bishop in how he responded to and managed those complaints.”
Recommendations will be made to Cardinal Dew, in line with the procedures set out in A Path to Healing. The recommendations could help form the basis of any decision to rename Kavanagh College in Dunedin, which some people have called for.
Cardinal Dew says he encourages anyone who has any concerns regarding inappropriate behavior in a Church setting to contact NOPS to report their concerns.
“NOPS operates independently of diocesan and Congregation structures. It contracts professional, experienced, and independent third-party investigators to conduct investigations on its behalf.
“We are committed to a safe environment for all within the Church community. Any form of misconduct or inappropriate behavior in the Church community is not acceptable,” said Cardinal Dew.