Mother raped by Catholic priest says church leaders failed to properly investigate abuse

A mother who was raped by a Catholic priest says the church investigated the abuse itself and initially moved him to a different school rather than punishing him.

She later complained to police, who twice decided against pressing charges before finally securing a conviction after a review.

Ann-Marie Shelley, now aged 64, appeared before a royal commission of inquiry in Auckland this morning, which is holding hearings on abuse in faith-based institutions.

She was left at Hutt Hospital after her birth in 1955 and placed for adoption through Catholic Social Services.

In a harrowing statement, Shelley described how she was neglected or abused at nearly every stage of her life - at the hands of her adoptive parents, at primary school, at a social welfare home, in an unmarried parents' home, by a priest, and in a Red Cross shelter.

While she was training to be a nurse at Hutt Hospital, she was raped by Peter Hercock, a school counsellor and chaplain at Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt.

Hercock's crimes have previously been reported, but Shelley today spoke for the first time in detail about the way the church handled her complaint. She was critical of church leaders who have since been promoted to prestigious roles in New Zealand.

Shelley had initially been sent to Hercock for counselling while she was a student at Sacred Heart. He raped her in 1974 when she went to him for counselling after her first child was taken from her for adoption.

Ten years later, he again raped her while she was living in emergency Red Cross housing.

"While at the Red Cross house [he] climbed through the window in the middle of the night and raped me while my 5-year-old son and 9-month-old baby twins were asleep right next to my bed," she told commissioners.

She later discovered that he had assaulted other women, and her anger over this prompted her to make a formal complaint with the Catholic Church's Abuse Protocol Committee in September 2002 - 26 years after she was first assaulted.

She said the two committee members who investigated her case were not experienced or qualified for the task. One of them was a priest, Father Tim Duckworth.

When she asked what the church was going to do about Hercock's other victims, she was told by Duckworth: "Nothing. It's not our responsibility".

She received a formal apology six weeks later and a payment of $25,000.

"And then I was expected to shut up and go away. Apologies are good, but accountability would be even better."

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