SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand makes public submission to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Aotearoa New Zealand made a Public Submission to the country's Royal Commission on Monday, July 31, 2023. The contents of the submission are set forth below. We here at SNAP USA applaud this worthy endeavor, and we hope that the Commission both examines it and adopts it.
To: New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions
From: The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Aotearoa New Zealand
31 July 2023
Dear Commissioners, Tēnā Koutou Katoa,
On behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Aotearoa New Zealand, an independent, grassroots peer-support network for women, men, and non-binary persons, and their whānau, who are victims and survivors of clergy, religious and institutional abuse, and on account of the mission of SNAP which is to 1) support survivors, 2) protect children, vulnerable persons, and adults at risk, 3) hold predators to account, 4) raise community awareness, of specific concern to us is religious abuse and abuse in faith-based institutions, particularly by ministers of religion on account of the complex factors associated with religion, faith-based institutions, and religious ministry.
Of major concern to us is the fact that no regulation exists in Aotearoa New Zealand for the safe practice of ministers of religion.
In view of the Commission’s findings reported in He Purapura Ora, he Māra Tipu, From Redress to Puretumu Torowhānui, December 2021 which reported widespread abuse by ministers of religion in faith-based institutions across New Zealand, and elsewhere, and under New Zealand’s national law and obligations under international law, we believe the New Zealand Government has a responsibility to assure the safe provision of care for all New Zealanders on account of religious practice.
Therefore, the Trustees and Executive Leadership Group of SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand, together with our USA leadership, wish to propose for your consideration, in support of a public submission already made to you by Dr David Walker on 28 March 2023, in the hope that you would make the following recommendation in your Final Report to the New Zealand Head of State:
That the following or equivalent be set up in New Zealand:
TE KAUNIHERA WHAKAPONO O AOTEAROA / THE NEW ZEALAND COUNCIL OF RELIGIOUS MINISTERS
The kaupapa/purpose of this kaunihera/council would be:
- Whakahaumaru i te iwi whānui, whakatuarā te kounga o te tikanga whakapono.
To protect the public and promote safe religious practice, by ensuring religious ministers practice safely.
The proposed Council is envisaged to have a similar purpose, function, structure and enacting legislation as that of the Medical Council of New Zealand / Te Kaunihera Rata o Aotearoa. It is also inspired by the New Zealand Association of Counsellors / Te Rōpū Kaiwhiriwhiri o Aotearoa which works to uphold professional and ethical standards for its members.
Dr David Walker has already set out and explicated ten reasons why such a Council is needed. We reiterate those reasons for your convenience:
- There is a major power imbalance between Ministers of Religion and those to whom they minister.
- Ministers of Religion play an important role in society by leading faith-based institutions and by influencing people.
- There is a very high occurrence of sexual abuse and other abuses by ministers of religion in New Zealand.
- There is extensive and ongoing coverup of abuse, in particular child sexual abuse, by ministers of religion, in particular by leaders of faith-based institutions.
- There has been a failure by leaders of faith-based institutions to remove from ministry their ministers of religion who have been found to have sexually abused children and adults. This has led to the further abuse.
- There is a dearth of uniform, transparent and enforceable standards of safe practice for ministers of religion.
- No statutory body exists to govern religious practice and assure appropriate training in standards of safe practice for ministers of religion.
- The absence of a process in either criminal or civil law to remove from practice those ministers of religion who have been found by a court of law or other recognised tribunal to have sexually abused children or vulnerable persons or adults at risk.
- Abuse by ministers of religion can be reduced using evidence-based strategies which have been found to be effective in the regulation of other professions.
- There is an inherent responsibility, in national law and in commitments made under international law, of the New Zealand government to act to protect the nation’s children, vulnerable persons, and adults at risk.
This Council would not encroach upon religious beliefs in any way, shape of form. The goal is that members of this new Council would address abuse professionally and hence prevent further abuse.
1. Hanganga / Composition
The Council would be made up of, and require input from, various stakeholders across cultures and across religions such as Māori and non-Māori leaders of diverse religions, for example, Jewish Rabbis, Muslim Imams, Christian Ministers, Dharmic and Daoic Religious Ministers, as well as Professors of Religion, Theologians, and experts in governance, law, healthcare, and advocacy.
2. Paerewa / Standards
The Council’s principal function would be to protect the people of New Zealand who practice religion by ensuring that ministers of religion are safe in their practice.
The Council would do this by setting standards for ministers of religion. The standards would be based on the International Charter of Human Rights and place the care and wellbeing of the person first, not the religion, based on the primacy of care for persons over and above religious practice.
The standards would set out the principles and values that define safe religious practice, and outline what the Council would expect from ministers of religion in all aspects of their professional behaviour.
Issues: Safe religious care / Safe communication & consent / Cultural safety / Safe conduct & professionalism.
When the Religious Council is considering setting a new standard, or modifying an existing one, it would first collect feedback from the public.
3. Fitness to practice safely
One of the Council’s most important roles would be to ensure that ministers of religion are fit to lead the practice of religion, that is, lead and interact with the community of believers. The Council would have a set of standards which outline what is expected of ministers of religion, and procedures to follow when there are concerns about a minister of religion’s conduct, competence, or fitness to practice safely.
Issues: Conduct and competence concerns / Concerns about a minister of religion / Statements, definitions and publications / Advice to believers around a minister of religion’s use of touch.
4. Rēhitatanga / Registration
To practice religion in New Zealand, all ministers must first gain registration from the Council. This will ensure they are competent and fit to practice safely.
5. Tautāwhi / Support
The Council’s primary role is to protect the health and safety of the public. However, it is also here to support ministers of religion.
a. Support for practitioners of religion
As a believer, your health and safety must be your religious minister’s primary concern. You should feel comfortable and be well-informed at all times, safe in the knowledge that your faith-based minister is fit to practice religion safely. If you feel that has been compromised, the Council will take every notification seriously.
Issues: Check a religious minister’s registration / Find a religious minister / Making a notification as a believer / your right as a believer.
b. Support for ministers of religion
This section contains information on how the Council supports ministers of religion who are having problems and help them to apply for registration or restoration.
Issues: Minister of religion’s fitness / Returning to practice / Getting registered / Statements and standards
c. Support for others
Not a minister of religion or a believer? Contact the Council to find out how it can help.
Commissioners, we would like to ask you to consider, for your Final Report, this recommendation that the New Zealand Government sets up TE KAUNIHERA WHAKAPONO O AOTEAROA / THE RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF NEW ZEALAND.
Sincerely / Nāhaku noa,
SNAP Aotearoa New Zealand, pp
Dr. Christopher E. Longhurst
 See Knapp, Patrick J. (2021). Understanding Religious Abuse and Recovery. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock; Wright, Keith T. (2001). Religious Abuse: A Pastor Explores the Many Ways Religion Can Hurt As Well As Heal. Kelowna, B.C.: Northstone; and Cahill, Desmond and Peter Wilkinson (August 2017). “Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports.” Centre for Global Research School of Global, Urban and Social Studies RMIT University, Melbourne.
 D. Walker, “The Development of a Statutory Body to Assure the Safe Practice of Ministers of Religion.” Public Submission to The New Zealand Abuse in Care - Royal Commission of Inquiry, 28 March 2023.
 Walker, “The Development of a Statutory Body.”