Case Number: 3501

Council Meeting: mARCH 2024

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Bias


  1. On 16 November 2023, The Press |Te Matatika published a story headlined ‘Illegal exorcisms’  investigated.   The complaint has been made by Ken Orr for a beach of Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.  The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

  1. The story reports the concerns of a sexual survivors group who allege the Catholic group The Sons of The Most Holy Redeemer abused them, conducted unauthorised exorcisms and sexual groomed them. The survivors group says complainants have “received legal letters in an effort to “silence” them”.
  2. The story quotes Christchurch Bishop Michael Gielen who says a representative of the Pope has been ordered to interview the complainants.  Bishop Gielen, who was appointed in May 2022,  says the abuse allegations were brought to his attention shortly after he arrived in the diocese.
  3. A Catholic theologian and NZ leader of the international group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) Dr Christopher Longhurst says the allegations of ritualistic and other forms of faith-based abuse include lengthy unauthorised exorcisms, children being isolated from parents and sexually groomed via text messages and religious confessions involving sexual deviancy. The allegation against the Sons were reported to the former Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin in 2021 but Mr Longhurst says nothing was done.
  4. An email from Bishop Martin to Dr Longhurst in November 2021 said the abuse allegations had been sent to the Catholic Church national office for professional standards for investigation to ensure the Sons’ group were following national standards. At the time no update on the investigation had been provided to Snap or the complainants.
  5. Dr Longhurst says the complainants are happy the issue had been escalated to the Vatican and noted nothing would have happened without media intervention.
  6. The matter had also been reported to the police who were unable to provide an update.

The Complaint

  1. Ken Orr complains the article’s reference to “sexual deviancy” and “sexual grooming” which ‘are very serious offences’ is an unwarranted attack on “the good name and reputation of the members of the religious community of the Sons of the Holy Redeemer plus gives offence to the thousands of Catholics in the Christchurch Diocese.”
  2. Mr Orr says it is unfair to promote ‘this appalling libel’ on the front page of The Press, which has a ‘serious responsibility to protect the good name of community members’.  He questions the paper’s justification for using the aforementioned term
  3. He says The Press has a ‘serious obligation’ to verify the accusations and it failed by not seeking comment from those accused of serious criminal conduct. “Those who have been defamed were not provided with an opportunity to defend themselves” he said.
  4. Mr Orr raises various matters about those who accuse the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer of  abuse. He says these matters have been raised by the community but provides no substantiation. The matters will therefore not be outlined in this decision. 
  5. Mr Orr argues an article has been published that defames and undermines the good name of members of the Catholic community.

The Response

  1. The Press rejects the allegation made by Mr Orr that the article breaches Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.  It says the article is based on an accepted fact which Mr Orr has not challenged and that is the decision by the Vatican to send an investigator to interview the complainants about the allegations.
  2. The Press says while Mr Orr argues it failed in its duty of balance by not seeking direct comment from the accused parties, it did seek comment from the most senior member of the local Catholic diocese, Bishop Michael Gielen.
  3. The Press says the article was not a detailed investigation and the names of the accused were not published but had that happened they would have been approached.
  4. The material was treated the same way as any such matter and The Press would seek comment from senior leadership of any organisation, not of the individuals concerned.  Articles are published almost daily on investigation of authorities and it is rare for comment to be sought from the individuals concerned.
  5. The Press sought comment from Otago University theological scholar Professor David Tombs to provide context to the intervention by the Vatican and that he described it as an unusual step which indicated the Vatican has “significant concerns”.  The Press says this justified the article’s publication and confirmed the allegations could not be dismissed as "false, vindictive and delusionary", as described by Mr Orr.
  6.  The Press rejects Mr Orr’s suggestion the accusations of Snap are invalid saying it is a globally recognised network with acknowledged understanding of abuse within religious institutions and it was consulted by the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care in NZ. Furthermore, Snap’s leader in NZ was sufficiently concerned by the allegations to persevere in his battle to secure a full investigation. “It is the persistence of Snap which has resulted in this Papal intervention.”

The Discussion

  1. Mr Orr’s complaint is made on the grounds that The Press failed to exercise diligence and care in its investigation of the accusations made by the complainants and it should have sought a response from the Sons’ community.
  2. Mr Orr also complains about the terms “sexual deviancy” and “sexual grooming” being used in the story. However, these were the terms used by the complainants and as such inclusion is justified.
  3. The Press sought response from the most senior Catholic representative in Christchurch, the Bishop of Christchurch and as such fulfilled the requirements for Principle (1) Accuracy Fairness and Balance.
  4. The Council notes that the story named the leader of the Sons, also known as the Transalpine Redemptorists, as Father Anthony Mary and mentioned that it has premises at both Geraldine and St Albans in Christchurch City.
  5. The Council is therefore of the view The Press could have sought comment from Father Anthony Mary.
  6. The Council recognises that matters around allegations of abuse in faith communities such as the Catholic Church are difficult but believes in this case The Press acted fairly by contacting firstly the most senior member of the Catholic Church and secondly a scholar of religious matters for context.
  7. Decision: The complaint is not upheld on Principle (1)
    Council members considering the complaint were the Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Marie Shroff, Richard Pamatatau, Rosemary Barraclough and Reina Vaai.


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