Catholic abuse issue festers on with more insiders speaking up

Even the official Catholic line is for a significant change in approach to world-wide scandals of abuse that have been swept under the church gowns for decades.

The Pope is under increasing pressure and criticism:

The ‘gravely negligent’ charge (and similar) is becoming common, including in New Zealand. There is a campaign to change the name of a Dunedin High School named after a Bishop who effectively allowed priests to continue abusing.

In August:  Not ready to condemn Kavanagh

The Bishop of Dunedin is not yet ready to condemn a predecessor, but says the actions of a priest who aided a paedophile Christian Brother would ”definitely not” be appropriate today.

Bishop Michael Dooley yesterday defended former Dunedin bishop John Kavanagh, who had jurisdiction over Fr Magnus Murray and Br Desmond Fay at the time of their offending in Dunedin.

Fr Murray, who in 2003 admitted offences against four Dunedin boys dating back to 1958-72, was sent to Australia by Bishop Kavanagh for treatment after details of his offending were raised in 1972.

Bishop Kavanagh later endorsed Fr Murray’s return to public ministry in the North Island, where more victims have since emerged.

Bishop Kavanagh also had ultimate jurisdiction over Br Desmond Fay, who was principal at Christian Brothers Junior School when he allegedly abused a young boy who later committed suicide.

Br Fay, who also taught at St Edmund’s School in South Dunedin, was sent overseas after the intervention of a Dunedin Catholic priest, Fr Kevin Kean.

Moving abusing priests on to other locations where abuse continued seems to be a common story.

ODT last Thursday: Emotions high amid calls for name change

Tears mixed with calls for healing as more than 50 people gathered in Dunedin to demand a new name for Kavanagh College last night.

The meeting was organised by former Kavanagh College pupils Christian McNab (25) and Sam Murphy (26) following ODT Insight revelations about sexual offending within the Dunedin diocese.

Much of the abuse occurred under the watch of Dunedin Catholic bishop at the time John Kavanagh, from whom the college took its name in 1989.

And, as current Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley watched from the audience, survivors and their supporters stood, one by one, to share their stories and join the call for a name change last night.

Board member Paul O’Neill told last night’s meeting the decision was ultimately for Bishop Dooley to make, but the issue was being considered ”seriously”.

So one bishop gets to make the decision. A bishop who has so far failed to adequately acknowledge the severity of the situation for the Catholic Church in Dunedin and in New Zealand. This seems to be a failing that goes right to the top, the Pope.

But some in the church are prepared to stand up. Last Monday Alexandra’s priest speaks out

A Central Otago priest has broken his silence by criticising the Catholic Church’s handling of historic sexual abuse allegations.

Alexandra parish priest Fr Vaughan Leslie said the church’s response, within New Zealand and overseas, had helped fuel the “abuse crisis” now engulfing the church.

It had failed to remove men from ministry when credible complaints were received, and “misguided protectionism” had occurred “at the expense of truth and justice”, he said.

The response also highlighted the need for culture change within the church hierarchy, here and overseas, to put an end to a situation in which “in-groups of clergy hold all the reins of power”.

“I speak out because I love the Catholic Church, but not always the way she is run.

Saying this as a priest could well challenge some members of the Catholic hierarchy, but not doing so makes me guilty of saying the status quo is OK – which I do not believe [will do] if we are to regain our credibility, particularly in the moral area.

“Only when this occurs will victims of all forms of church-based abuse be able to trust the church again and have confidence that her processes will effectively protect the vulnerable, now and in the future.”

He had been compelled to speak out once before, in 2003, when he wrote to Dunedin paedophile priest Fr Magnus Murray in prison, urging him to seek forgiveness for his “truly evil” crimes.

Fr Murray had responded by complaining to the church hierarchy from his prison cell, and Fr Leslie was reprimanded for his actions.

He would not name the church official who reprimanded him, but said it was now clear clergy needed to hold other clergy and the church leadership – himself included – to account.

I don’t know if church leaders are capable of dealing with this properly. Praying amongst themselves doesn’t cut it.

Ageing bishops seem lout of touch with the damage this is doing their church. Their reluctance to publicly hold people to account leaves a further stain – are they trying to avoid responsibility for hiding and perpetuating past abuses?

 

 

 

 

Pope and NZ bishops fail to adequately address abuses

The Pope has again been criticised for not appropriately dealing with the seriousness of cover-ups of  abuse over decades in the Catholic Church, and New Zealand bishops have likewise been criticised again.

New York Times editorial:  The Pope Ignores the Damage as Another Prelate Falls

In his letter on Friday accepting the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, Pope Francis praised the departing prelate for his “nobility” in not trying to defend “mistakes” in his handling of sexual-abuse allegations.

The pope misses the point.

The archbishop may not be as culpable as other bishops who more systematically covered up sexual predation, and in at least one case he took action that was initially thwarted by the Vatican.

But a devastatingly detailed grand jury report on widespread child sex abuse in Pennsylvania churches showed that Cardinal Wuerl, as bishop of Pittsburgh, was immersed in a clerical culture that hid pedophilic crimes behind euphemisms, conducted unprofessional investigations and evaluations of accused priests, kept acknowledged cases of sex abuse secret from parish communities and avoided reporting the abuse to police.

In an anguished letter to his archdiocese, Cardinal Wuerl accepted responsibility for actions described in the grand jury report. “I wish that I could redo some decisions I have made in my three decades as a bishop and each time get it right,” he wrote.

Pope Francis saw Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation as a sacrifice for the good of the church amid the attacks by critics like Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States who has vigorously pressed charges of a church cover-up.

Yet by indicating that he regards Cardinal Wuerl’s past actions simply as “mistakes,” and by allowing him to remain a member of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, the pope reinforces the sense that he does not understand the extraordinary damage done by clerics who cruelly and shamelessly abused their power over trusting children and adults.

New York Times: Pope Accepts Wuerl’s Resignation as Washington Archbishop, but Calls Him a Model Bishop

Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, a moment many victims of clerical abuse had hoped would demonstrate his commitment to holding bishops accountable for mismanaging cases of sexual misconduct.

But instead of making an example of Cardinal Wuerl, who was named in a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report that accused church leaders of covering up abuse, Francis held him up as a model for the future unity of the Roman Catholic Church. The pope cited Cardinal Wuerl’s “nobility” in volunteering to resign and announced that the 77-year-old prelate would stay on as the archdiocese’s caretaker until the appointment of a successor.

For some Catholics, Friday’s decision was a deep disappointment on an issue that has shadowed Francis’s papacy and threatened his legacy.

By making it clear he thought Cardinal Wuerl had served the church well, they said, Francis sent yet another mixed message on a topic that has shaken faith in the church’s leadership around the world.

This shaken faith includes in New Zealand, where bishops have failed to properly address abuses here.

ODT: Church attacked for silence

The head of the University of Otago’s theological centre has launched a blistering attack on the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Dunedin, saying their response to historic sexual abuse is “a failure of the church’s moral leadership”.

The comments by Prof David Tombs – Howard Paterson Professor of Theology and Public Issues – come as the church maintains its silence over the extent of historic abuse by clergy within the Dunedin diocese.

Since August, ODT Insight has highlighted the church’s handling of one paedophile priest, Fr Magnus Murray, and identified other offenders — including priests, Christian Brothers and Catholic teachers — who targeted children over decades.

But Bishop Michael Dooley — who publicly apologised to the city in August — has since repeatedly refused to say how many historic offenders, victims or payouts the church is aware of within the Dunedin diocese.

And, in recent weeks, he has issued ODT Insight with new “guidelines” for responding to questions, including that he would “reserve my right to exercise discretion in answering any request”.

Since then, Bishop Dooley has ignored requests for comment, including on recent allegations levelled against one of the most senior members of the clergy in Dunedin in recent times, who has since died.

At the same time, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference has backed away from an earlier commitment, given to a national survivors’ group, to make a public statement on the need for the church to be included in an expanded royal commission.

Prof Tombs said Bishop Dooley’s approach to media scrutiny appeared to be “raising [the] barrier to journalistic inquiries … as a way to evade difficult questions”.

He also wanted to see “much greater urgency” from Bishop Dooley, and New Zealand’s other Catholic bishops, in pressing for the terms of the royal commission to be expanded.

“If the terms do not change … then Bishop Dooley is in effect saying that the church will not take positive steps for truth or justice.

Evidence overseas was that when an inquiry began asking probing questions, the extent of the abuse and the cover-up were both shown to be “much more serious” than previously acknowledged.

It looks like new Zedaland bishops are trying to cover up the extent of abuse by priests here.

“So it seems the church [in New Zealand] is trying to avoid this by saying as little as possible — beyond its regret, sorrow and sense of failure.

Bishop Dooley, contacted yesterday, would only say he would “welcome the opportunity to meet with and discuss the concerns David Tombs has about my response”.

“At this present moment I am meeting with local victims and survivors and my primary concern is to listen to them.”

Good on the bishop for meeting local victims and survivors, but if he and the Catholic Church are to restore any faith that they are capable of properly addressing the abuse problems they need to stop trying to keep everything secret.

The church’s response was also criticised by members of the Network of Survivors of Faith-based Institutional Abuse and their Supporters.

The group had met Hamilton Bishop Steve Lowe — as the bishop responsible for professional standards — in September to discuss the need for a fresh statement from the NZ Catholic Bishops Council, calling for the church’s inclusion in an expanded Royal Commission.

Bishop Lowe had said one would be forthcoming, but it took until this week for the council’s new executive officer, James van Schie, to email the group, only to reiterate the church’s earlier submissions.

Network spokeswoman Liz Tonks believed the church needed to go further, or the majority of victims of faith-based abuse would be excluded from the inquiry.

“At this point, the bishops … would appear complicit in avoiding any investigation of the church in the Royal Commission and have not demonstrated the ethical and moral leadership expected.”

It is bad enough that victims are having to fight for disclosure and acceptance of the degree of the problem in the church, but in failing to be up front and open about the problems and appearing to be trying to avoid any proper investigation, the bishops leave themselves open to accusations of being complicit in cover ups in the past as well as now.

Bishops may have difficulty answering to being held to account by ordinary people and the laws of the country, as they are used to answering only to ‘god’ (which means answering to their own imaginations and self-importance), but if they are to live up to the moral standards they purport to support they need to realise that they on sexual abuses of priests they are not judge, jury and forgiver.

Pope faces ongoing pressure over widespread priest abuse

It seems that neither the Pope nore the Catholic Church has the will nor knows the way to properly deal with decades of widespread abuse by priests around the world.

The forgiveness card won’t wash until the Pope and the church fully accept responsibility and make clear changes to address the problem – including properly holding abusive priests to account. This means stopping trying to sweep the scandal under their pompous robes.

Like:

It has happened here in New Zealand (both the abuse and the lack of appropriate action).  ODT: Communities respond to abuse: Dunedin opted for ‘prayer and penance’

There are no immediate plans for the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin to follow in Wellington’s footsteps by asking priests to fast to atone for historic sexual abuse by clergy.

It was reported yesterday priests in the Wellington region were spending the day praying and fasting to atone for clerical sexual abuse.

The gesture followed a letter from Pope Francis in August, in which he asked all Catholics to fast and pray in order that their ears might be opened to the “hushed pain felt by children and young people” as a result of clerical abuse,  RNZ  reported.

Monsignor Gerry Burns, the vicar-general of the Wellington Archdiocese, said priests decided to fast as a way of committing to a change of heart and church structures which allowed child abuse to flourish. Dunedin Bishop the Most Rev Michael Dooley said yesterday he “definitely” saw merit in the event, but there were no immediate plans for priests to fast in Dunedin.

Instead, a day of “prayer and penance” was held last week  at St Joseph’s Church in Brockville, he said.

They remain alarmingly out of touch.

A “moderate” number of people attended throughout the day, he said.

Bishop Dooley was also “looking at ways that we can gather in prayer and reflection to address the trauma of sexual abuse”.

The Bishops and the Pope can’t continue to try to hide behind prayer on this.

Irish Times: the church must act on abuse

The Pope has been to Ireland and made noises about awful amounts of abuse by perpetrator priests, but there is little sign yet that anything substantial is being done by the Vatican, which has been abysmally negligent in the past.

The Irish Times view on the papal visit fallout: now the church must act on abuse

Pope Francis has returned to Rome after his brief visit to Ireland where he charmed with his humility and his plea for forgiveness over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and its cover-up by bishops. Yet, nothing has changed.

As the afterglow of that visit recedes, a Vatican emerges once more where things are as was. There, inadequate mechanisms for holding to account those prelates who cover up the abuse of children remain. This is unacceptable.

Catholics, and others whose children may be in Catholic care, cannot be expected to accept the Vatican’s ongoing resistance to setting up a tribunal with powers of dismissal to deal with bishops and religious superiors who cover up the abuse of children.

Pope Francis has returned to Rome after his brief visit to Ireland where he charmed with his humility and his plea for forgiveness over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and its cover-up by bishops. Yet, nothing has changed.

As the afterglow of that visit recedes, a Vatican emerges once more where things are as was. There, inadequate mechanisms for holding to account those prelates who cover up the abuse of children remain. This is unacceptable.

Catholics, and others whose children may be in Catholic care, cannot be expected to accept the Vatican’s ongoing resistance to setting up a tribunal with powers of dismissal to deal with bishops and religious superiors who cover up the abuse of children.

These documents detail what both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have described as crimes and should be available to legitimate State inquiries, internationally. That such co-operation in investigating crime centred on the protection of children has been resisted by the Vatican is, frankly, intolerable.

Now we see allegations of cover-up move centre stage in the current Catholic Church civil war between liberals and traditionalists, used as mud by both sides to sling at one another.

If the Catholic Church does not address accountability in a manner which ensures children are safe, then the international community should intervene to help it do so.

This is far from being just an Irish problem, it is a world wide disgrace.

Here in New Zealand the Otago Daily Times and NZ Herald have detailed similar patterns of abuse by priest and negligent responses from the church that has enabled even more abuses.

ODT: The stain of sexual abuse

The Otago Daily Times Insight series ”Marked by the Cross” has uncovered disturbing details about the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of Dunedin priest Fr Magnus Murray.

He quickly returned to public ministry while in Australia and was welcomed back into the fold as a parish priest in North Island centres from 1977 until retiring in 1990.

A common story of moving a problem priest to other locations where abuses continued.

Fr Murray is just one of many priests worldwide accused or convicted of offences against mainly teenage boys. Pope Francis in June accepted the resignations of the bishop at the centre of Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal and two other priests, launching a purge of the Catholic Church in a country where it had been damaged by an avalanche of abuse and cover-up accusations.

More from the ODT in just the last nine days:

And this shows how badly the church is still handling this: Trio ‘sincerely regret’ hurt caused by comments

The Bishops of Auckland and Dunedin, together with a senior member of the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin, have added their names to an apology for earlier comments implying parents bore some responsibility for stopping clerical sexual abuse.

Dunedin Bishop the Most Rev Michael Dooley and Monsignor the Rt Rev John Harrison, both of Dunedin, and Auckland Bishop the Most Rev Patrick Dunn have together signed a joint apology sent to the Otago Daily Times as a letter to the editor.

In it, the trio said they wanted to “unreservedly apologise” for earlier comments published by ODT Insight as part of its ongoing Marked by the Cross investigation.

“We unreservedly apologise if we gave the impression that parents were somehow to blame for the sexual abuse of their children.

“This was never our intention and we are, each of us, saddened that it was interpreted in this way.”

The comments, which provoked an outcry, came in the ODT Insight article Sins of a Father, published earlier this month.

It seems apparent that neither the Pope nor senior New Zealand Catholics get the severity of the crisis, nor how to properly deal with it.

Pope Francis needs to lead on this or both his tenure and his church face major problems of credibility.

Disturbing allegations of online death and rape threats

There’s been quite a bit of online comment lately about females getting serious threats of harm.

1 News: James Shaw ‘really furious’ female colleagues Marama Davidson and Golriz Ghahraman are subjected to threats online – ‘I don’t face that as a white male’

Mr Shaw told TVNZ 1’s Q+A current affairs programme he was “really furious” that his colleagues are subjected to “constant sustained attack” from people making threats against them.

“I don’t face that as a white male – certainly not nearly to the same extent,” Mr Shaw said.

Apart from a spate of attacks and threats over a few months in 2015 and 2016 I don’t get attacked on Twitter, but I don’t tweet very much, and I’m not well known like an MP is.

Ms Davidson tweeted in July that she had received “death threats towards me and my kids from supporters of those two who Goff refused to hire a venue to”.

Ms Ghahraman said in May she has also been subjected to threats online, including threats of sexual violence, and said social media networks like Facebook need to take more responsibility.

I don’t venture much into political stuff on Facebook either. I have seen some examples of threats, and also of more general attacks, so have no reason to doubt their claims. It is an insidious problem that females in particular seem to suffer from.

On Twitter today:

From my perspective, this is an extremely well-timed piece. It’s fast becoming mostly madness on here. So why do we keep doing it? Are we masochists?

During the last 24 hours, I’ve received well over a dozen death and rape threats.

That’s an alarming claim.

I haven’t counted them all. I’m not worried or frightened or scared. Or even angry. I’m just completely inured to it. And that’s not a healthy way to be.

It’s extremely unhealthy for online discussions and socialising.

Now, some will argue that I poked the viper with *that* tweet so what did I expect? That’s one (strange) way of looking at it. The other is that an online world where this stuff is par for the course, is very sick indeed. Do I need to be part of it? Something I need to consider.

The fact that I feel absolutely nothing/zero/zilch about being threatened and called every name under the sun, is a sure sign I’ve stayed too long at the online party. Might be time to call a cab and go home. Before the sun comes up.

That would be an unfortunate response, because that would appear to be the aim of those gutless nameless pricks (I think they are mostly men), to drive off voices they disagree with.

Well, it’s been an eye-opener. That’s for sure. I never really paid the whole issue much attention before. But now I see what the all the fuss is about. Politicians, journalists, and the public should be very concerned about what is happening. But, they’re not.

There are multiple herds that take intolerance to intolerable levels.

Perhaps there’s some way some of the online community can get together and brainstorm ways of trying to deal with this, without shutting up, and trying a counter shut down of voices.

 

Judge shortage and lawyer abuse major issues for judicial system

Two news items that may or may not be related.

NZH: Judge shortage pushing courts to crisis point, New Zealand Bar Association says

The law society and the New Zealand Bar Association are calling on the Government to increase the number of judges available to carry out district court business to address critical resourcing levels.

The organisations are speaking out after a column written by the Chief District Court Judge, Jan-Marie Doogue, in which she said there would be a redeployment in judicial resource from the criminal jurisdiction to the Family Court, to meet the backlog.

NZLS Criminal Law Committee convenor Steve Bonnar QC said the access to justice in the district court was under threat and moving resources from the family court to the criminal courts would only move the problem.

New Zealand Bar Association president Clive Elliott said resourcing had reached a critical point and immediate intervention by the Government was needed.

A serious backlog had arisen in the Family Court where there were about 8000 Care of Children Act cases waiting to be heard, he said.

“The situation in the Family Court is one example. It is clearly serious when the welfare of so many children is likely to be affected by these delays. The reality is that the only way the courts can manage is by pushing further delays on to litigants.”

Prior to the passing of the District Court Act 2016, although there was cap on the number of permanent judges who could be appointed, lawyers as well as retired judges could be appointed as acting judges.

The 2016 Act now restricts appointment of acting judges to those who are former judges of the District Court and are under 75 years old so there is a much smaller pool of people who can be appointed as acting judges.

In real terms, there has been a fall in the total number of judges. In 2017 the total number of all judges was 179. By the end of May 2018, this will have fallen to 167 judges. The new cap in the legislation is 160.

On top of that, the cases judges were dealing with had increased in complexity and seriousness in criminal cases and there had been a considerable rise in the number of without-notice applications and defended applications in the Family Court, Elliott said.

He said the strain on the judiciary had been considerable and the country could not afford to lose experienced judges.

Lawyers become judges, and that isn’t a happy camp either. a report says the profession is facing a ‘cultural crisis’.

Stuff: Widespread harassment, bullying and racism identified within the law profession

The legal profession in New Zealand is facing a “cultural crisis” after a survey uncovered wide-ranging and ongoing sexual harassment, racism and bullying.

Commissioned by the New Zealand Law Society, the survey follows allegations of sexual abuse and harassment aired by some female lawyers earlier this year.

The Law Society said 13,662 lawyers were invited to take part in the confidential survey managed by Colmar Brunton, with 3516 responding.

Out of that total, the survey found widespread harassment throughout the profession, with 33 per cent of female lawyers experiencing crude or offensive behaviour that made them feel offended.

The survey found most victims of harassment were employee lawyers in a law firm. According to the data, the harasser was most likely to be the target’s manager, supervisor, partner or director.

Women were more likely than men to be harassed by someone in a more senior position.

Six per cent of lawyers who had been sexually harassed described the harassment as an actual or attempted rape or assault.

The survey found the reported nature of sexual harassment varied.

While non-physical forms of sexual harassment were most common, two thirds of lawyers who had experienced sexual harassment said it included some form of unwanted physical contact.

Over half of all lawyers surveyed said they had suffered some form of bullying in their career, with 21 per cent of lawyers experiencing bullying in the last six months.

Just over half of those who described being subjected to sexual harassment said it had been a one-off occasion.

Both sexual harassment and bullying behaviours were more common among lawyers working in criminal law, the survey said.

Bullying was more common in family law.

New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck called the findings a “cultural crisis”.

“When nearly one third of female lawyers have been sexually harassed during their working life, when more than half of lawyers have been bullied at some time in their working life, when nearly 30 per cent of lawyers feel major changes are needed to the culture of their workplace, and when 40 per cent of lawyers under 30 believe major changes are needed to their workplace culture, we must call a spade a spade – there is a cultural crisis in the New Zealand legal profession,” she said.

Nearly one in five lawyers – 18 per cent of those surveyed – reported having been sexually harassed in a legal environment at some time in their working life.

The reported levels of abuse in the legal profession are alarming. An abusive environment will deter people from staying in the profession.

I don’t have anything to do with the legal profession, but I have had some experience in the legal/court system. This has been a long drawn out farce for three years and still waiting for a conclusion. While what I have been involved in may be abnormal it isn’t isolated, and has been blighted by lengthy court delays, only some of which can be blamed on a vexatious but incompetent lay litigator.

I have seen in a number of proceedings where judges have been very lenient dealing with repeated non-compliance with basic court rules and legislation, repeated abuses of process, associate harassment, and allowing an incompetent litigator to waste a lot of court time and resources. Judges have allowed themselves to be played by someone with a long record of legal and social media abuse.

Successive judges have ignored ongoing harassment while they have pandered to a malicious prick.

But this is probably only a small symptom in a court system under real pressure, and a legal profession that may well be forced to confront a crisis of abusive culture.

 

 

White House resignation after abuse claims

Another example of abuse claims in the US escalating into a big story, with potentially disproportionate consequences. Rob Porter, a high ranking staff member in the White House, has resigned after two ex-wives publicly accused him of abuse. I don’t think there’s any indication that Trump is involved in this to any extent.

AXIOS: White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigns amid abuse allegations

White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned today after his two ex-wives came forward with abuse allegations.

The allegations:

  • Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, alleged in an interview published Wednesday by the Daily Mail that he kicked her on their honeymoon, progressing to choking and punching her in the face. She provided pictures that were published with the story.
  • Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Daily Mail earlier this weekthat he pulled her naked from the shower shortly after their first anniversary, and that he was verbally abusive. The Daily Mail also obtained a police complaint from 2010 of Porter allegedly punching the glass on a door at their home, which led to her filing a temporary protective order.
  • Willoughby told the Daily Mail that the FBI had interviewed her, along with Holderness. The Daily Mail claimed sources told them that Porter’s “dark past” was the reason for his failure to secure security clearances.

Porter’s statement:

“These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

“My commitment to public service speaks for itself. I have always put duty to country first and treated others with respect. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House.”

I think that it’s generally unwise to take sides in domestic disputes when you don’t know exactly what has happened, but the White House is strongly backing Porter.

Kelly and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Porter on Tuesday:

Kelly on Porter: “a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”

Sanders on Porter: “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.”

It’s possible for someone to be professional and effective in a public position, but an arsehole in private.

Does what Porter has been accused of deserve this level of attention? We are in an era when the consequences of past abuse can be huge, and possibly disproportionate to the alleged abuse.

And of course we should have concerns about the possible use of abuse claims to unfairly attack people that have not been found guilty.

Against that abuse had been swept under too many carpets for too long and it was overdue for proper exposure and redress – as long as that redress is based on proven guilt and is reasonably proportionate to the offences.

In this case the claims against Porter look authentic enough. He has a right to defend himself, but denial has long been a part of the cover up of abuses, so he has a problem.

The White House has clearly taken sides. This may or may not be unwise and misguided, but it’s fair to ask questions of White House staff, as Chris Cillizza does: 6 questions about Rob Porter the White House needs to answer

  1. Who knew about this? We know from CNN reporting that “senior White House officials” — including chief of staff John Kelly — knew the basic outlines of the allegations against Porter. Who other than Kelly knew? And what, if anything, did they say or do?
  2. What did Kelly know — and when? It’s clear that Kelly was aware of the accusations against Porter as far back as last fall. But what, exactly, did he know? And when did he learn the severity of what Porter is alleged to have done? Kelly loyalists sought to cover for the chief of staff on Wednesday night, insisting that he was taken aback by the picture of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye — and that no one, Kelly, included, knew the extent of what was being alleged until the past 24 hours.
  3. Did the FBI alert the White House to Porter’s issues? And when? Both of Porter’s ex-wives talked to the FBI about the alleged abuse as part of his background check. Did the FBI alert Kelly — or anyone else in the White House — to the seriousness of the allegations? Is that how Kelly and the other senior White House staffers knew about it? If not, why not?
  4. How was Porter doing his job without a full security clearance? …how can someone in that senior a position not have a full security clearance? It’s been a year. Wouldn’t that raise some red flags for Kelly and others in the White House? And how, logistically speaking, could Porter do his job without a security clearance?
  5. Why was Hope Hicks involved in crafting the Kelly statement? Hicks and Porter are romantically involved. Which makes it very odd that she was part of a small group tasked with writing a statement from Kelly that offered a full-throated defense of Porter.
    This is that statement: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
    It’s that statement that Kelly kind of, sort of walked back on Wednesday night. But couldn’t anyone see how Hicks writing it might be sort of a conflict?
  6. How much did Trump know and how did he react? According to CNN reporting, Trump was informed of the allegations around Porter earlier this week when the Daily Mail story broke. But, what, exactly was he told? And, what was his reaction? Did he support the full-throated defense of Porter from Kelly? Did he even know about it? Did he urge Kelly to have that response? Or did Trump want Porter out? If he did, why didn’t it happen? (Remember that Porter resigned. He wasn’t fired.)

While this is a serious issue for Porter and his two ex-wives, it hardly warrants becoming a serious national issue. Unless the White House are trying to cover up for and defend Porter, if he is guilty? Their support of Porter is somewhat complicated by Hicks’ romantic involvement.

It’s also fair to ask why this has become an issue now, when the alleged offences happened many years ago.

Is anyone guilty of some sort of past abuse, or perceived or alleged abuse, fair game if they are in a prominent position?

In some ways I think that disproportionate consequences are necessary to bring an insidious problem out in the open and deal to it. Many people have suffered more than they should have through suppression of proper redress.

But there’s a difficult line between dealing with the problem belatedly but fairly, and unfairly, and complicated by widely different circumstances of each case.

The brutal way politics is done in the US complicates things even further.

Addressing abuses is long overdue, and some victims will be vindicated and feel that at last justice is done, but there’s likely to be some casualties along the way.

Government may do more on historic state care abuse

It’s amazing what an impending election and a downturn in the polls can do.

But on this issue no matter what circumstances prompts common sense and decency this is a welcome shift in position.

RNZ:  Govt softens stance on abuse inquiry

Between the 1950s and 1990s, more than 100,000 children were taken into state care, most of them Māori.

The government set up a Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) in 2008 to hear from victims. It wound up in June 2015.

It also introduced an optional fast track process to resolve the backlog of claims where survivors can receive a personal apology and financial settlement.

More than 1000 have told CLAS they were physically and sexually abused, and the government has paid out $17 million and apologised to 900 people.

Survivors of abuse last week presented a petition and an open letter to Parliament, calling for a public apology and full inquiry.

Prime Minister Bill English has previously rebuffed such calls, but today said he wanted to hear more about exactly what they want.

“If there are additional steps to be taken which can help them, then we’re interested in that.

“Have we got an accurate view of the scale of what happened historically? It may be possible to find out more about that.”

But Mr English stressed that any action must not be “a large distraction of resource and focus” from the work that was already underway.

“If we can find something that doesn’t get in the way of what’s happening, then we’re looking for it.

So they are open to offers – in other words they would welcome a way out of the dead end of denial that they had stuck themselves down.

Mr English said the government would also consider offering a wider apology to the survivors.

“That wouldn’t be a problem at all.”

So do it. Soon. And do more to repair as much of the damage as possible.

The Nation: state care abuse

On The Nation this morning:

Mike Wesley-Smith investigates what could be one of the worst cases of abuse in state care in New Zealand’s history. Alison spent 40 years in psychiatric hospitals, suffered sexual and physical abuse – and she didn’t have a mental illness.

A major stain on New Zealand’s recent past.

Abuse and misogyny in politics

There may be more than misogyny at play here but it certainly suggests that female politicians are subjected to worse abuse than male politicians.

RNZ: Gender bias and Facebook comments: Is there a male equivalent of a vile hag?

Analysis – Is there a male equivalent of a “vile hag?” What about a “sanctimonious bitch?” How about “patronising c**t”?

When RNZ posts stories about gender to Facebook, they’re invariably the ones that attract the nastiest comments.

More than race, sexuality, the environment or politics, stories about gender attract abuse, profanity and flat-out nastiness.

That’s bad.

So, when we posted a video from our series The 9th Floor, featuring former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley pointing out the difference in the way women politicians are spoken about, compared to their men counterparts, we braced for an onslaught.

Of more than 100 comments across a dozen RNZ Facebook posts, there is one abusive comment for Jim Bolger (two if you count, “He’s an idiot”), one for Moore and one for Palmer. There are more than 60 for Dame Jenny.

Over at The Spinoff’s Facebook page, at the time of writing, Shipley is called a vindictive bitch and a despicable turd.

Jim Bolger gets called fascist, “thick as pig s**t”, Mike Moore gets called boring, and Geoffrey Palmer gets off with no comments that could be called abusive – that have remained public, anyway.

Politics can bring out the worst in some people. So can gender issues. And when gender and politics are combined it can get very ugly.

Attacks against male politicians happen a lot, but often the worst is directed at female politicians – and the abusers aren’t just male.

“Helen Clark and I could give you the long list of counterpoints. How people have described both of us, compared with our peers … It tells me more about other people than myself,” she told us.

“A giant predatory slug emerges when she unzips the ‘human’ bodysuit at night,” was one way she was described on Facebook.

She was also advised to lose “unwanted pounds” by cutting off her head.

“As vomitingly heinous and odious as perata [sic] or collins or bennett.”

She’s “wasting precious air”, “fit only for the gallows” and should be pushed “in the woodchipper”.

Appalling, but sadly not uncommon.

All the ex Prime Ministers featured in the 9th Floor so far are from last century so won’t be as fresh on many people’s minds, and younger people may hardly know them, but Shipley was only PM for two years following Bolger’s eight, so the quantity and degree of vitriol is way out of proportion to length of tenure. It looks like misogyny, or there is some other reason why female politicians get much worse abuse.

Helen Clark will feature on the 9th Floor this Friday, and she has been subjected to a lot of abuse in the past so will probably cop something like what Shipley did.

So the abuse isn’t just coming from the left or the right of politics, there are abusive people who lash out at politicians, especially female ones, regardless of their leanings.