Abuse survivor calls on Catholic Church to 'do the right thing' for victims

6:02 pm on 8 November 2019

A man who was abused as a child by a Catholic priest says his early life was one of confusion and silence.

Royal Commission Abuse in Care inquiry.

Royal Commission into abuse in state and faith-based care has been holding hearings in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Mike Ledingham was eight when he was first abused by Father Francis Green at St Joseph's Catholic School in Onehunga.

He gave evidence on Friday at the Royal Commission into abuse in state and faith-based care.

Mr Ledingham described in detail the actions of the priest against himself and his two younger brothers.

For him, the abuse started in 1958.

"When doing gymnastics or especially when riding in the front seat of his car he would rub up and down your legs and body quite inappropriately, although we certainly didn't understand this at the time."

It got a lot worse, he said. It was horrific, and changed their lives and their family forever.

They were threatened with retribution if they spoke out, he said.

If anyone else did what the priest did they would be in jail and he could not understand how Father Green was allowed to get away with it, he said.

Mr Ledingham eventually joined the army and became an SAS solider.

"Nothing the SAS threw at me physically and mentally fazed me as much as the sexual and mental abuse I suffered as a child."

Abuser was 'God's representative'

The man who abused him was the same man constantly held up as God's representative on Earth, who was never wrong and someone to be obeyed, he said.

"You need to understand that our predator was God in our community, God's representative in our parish and the authority that ruled over not the local church, but also the convent school I attended with my brothers and our devout Catholic family."

Many years later Mr Ledingham found out that his two younger brothers were also abused by Father Green.

"I felt anger, shame and guilt that I had not protected my brothers from the same abuse that happened to me, although in reality there was nothing I could have done.

"The impact on my family was devastating."

Mr Ledingham said he was often asked why the abuse was not reported at the time.

But culture at the time was that children had no power at all, he said.

"If you were accused of something by a nun or priest, you were automatically assumed guilty. If you had the temerity to protest you innocence you were generally punished twice. Once for the misdemeanour you were supposed to have committed and once for calling the priest or nun a liar.

"Like all others abused as children, we could not make sense of what was happening."

Mr Ledingham agreed to talk to the Royal Commission to give voice to the abuse his family experienced, but also to many children in New Zealand, by members of church institutions.

Church must be 'accountable'

He said the Church had to be held accountable.

"The Church cannot be trusted, in my experience, to do what must be done so the criminal abuse of children stops."

He told the Royal Commission the sanctity of the confessional needed be disregarded legally.

"It forgives these perverts of their crime, does nothing to stop them and allows them to continue on with their deviant ways.

"There is no doubt in my mind that many of these abusers went to confession after defiling children, got themselves back into supposed 'state-of-grace', then went on to reoffend again and again.

"Surely the safety and the sanctity of the children comes first."

The Catholic Church should in no way be allowed to handle allegations of sexual abuse in-house, he said.

Mr Ledingham wanted all allegations handled by the police, or if historic, by a non-aligned professional group, but funded by the church.

"The Catholic Church, I believe, is the biggest shareholder in faith-based abuse. They don't pay tax anyway, so why can't they take the burden placed on our society by the hundreds, if not thousands of victims of abuse by their own clergy.

"They have amply demonstrated they cannot honestly, fairly and charitably deal with the blight that afflicts their church."

Mr Ledingham had a clear message for the Catholic Church.

"Stop reading from the Judas file of betrayal, denial and hanging on to the thirty pieces of silver and read from the Jesus file. Do the right thing. You have the assets. Sell some of them and fund a program for victims run by professionals. I'm sure Jesus would agree with that.

"You preach that you and your followers are going to inherit the kingdom of Heaven, so you should be able to afford sell a few of your many castles on earth and use the money as reparation for the countless victims of your clergy," he said.

Father Frank Green

RNZ has previously reported that Father Frank Green - now dead - used gymnastics as a way to get close to children.

The New Zealand Herald has also reported on the abuse the Ledingham brothers were subjected to by Father Green.

Father Green died in the 1990s, before he could be held to account.

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