Church will inform police of sex abuse claims after Woodcock

The Catholic Church today vowed to pass all allegations of sex abuse against children by members straight to police following the conviction of paedophile priest Alan Woodcock yesterday.

"We learn by our mistakes and they were very grievous mistakes," the head of Woodcock's order, Father Denis O'Hagan said.

"When allegations of abuse are made against our order if they are contemporary and they are about children we will immediately inform the police."

The church was aware Woodcock had a previous sexual assault conviction before it made him a teacher at a Wellington boys' school.

Woodcock yesterday pleaded guilty to 21 charges of abusing 11 boys between 1978 and 1987 when he was teaching at St John's College, Hastings; St Patrick's College Silverstream; Highden, a school for young priests in Palmerston North; and Futuna, a Catholic retreat in Wellington.

Thirteen charges were withdrawn.

He was remanded in custody to appear in Wellington District Court for sentence on June 25.

The church paid one of Woodcock's victims, Terry Carter, $45,000 compensation in October 2001 and an additional $5000 was paid towards his counselling, Father O'Hagan, head of the Society of Mary in New Zealand, told NZPA.

"Of Mr Woodcock's victims who have approached us, I think we have reached a reasonably satisfactory conclusion with eight of them," he said.

Two other victims had made complaints to police but had not been in contact with the church, he said.

It was church policy not to give details of compensation paid to the victims unless the individuals had decided otherwise, as Mr Carter had done, he said.

"Some of (the victims) received monetary compensation, some of them have been helped in other ways.

"Basically, we try to listen to each person because money in itself I don't think solves the problem."

The church has worked with some victims' families, and tried to regain their faith in the church, he said.

"Most of all I think it's good they can tell their story and be heard."

Woodcock was extradited from Britain five months ago, after an 18-month court battle to bring him home.

Documents have revealed the church knew before it appointed Woodcock to St Patrick's that he had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old in Christchurch in 1979.

Correspondence obtained by The Dominion Post shows the church knew of the incident even before he was convicted. The Society of Mary's then Provincial, Noel Delaney, wrote to the court offering church support for Woodcock.

The church moved him from Christchurch and after a short spell at Victoria University he was appointed to St Patrick's.

Court documents show that at St Patrick's Woodcock made friends with boys, offered cigarettes and enticed them to his bedroom, where he performed indecent acts on them. One victim said his sexual appetite was "voracious" and "rampant".

After several students complained of abuse, the school advised Woodcock to get a passport.

It also set up a list of rules he had to follow, such as not having boys in his bedroom with the door closed "unless the visit is of a confessional nature or a similarly private matter". At the end of that year he was moved to Highden noviciate in Palmerston North.

Fr O'Hagan said he deeply regretted what had happened, and that child abuse was much better understood now than when Woodcock was offending.

Studies had highlighted the recidivist nature of some abuse, which had been little understood, especially in the Catholic Church, which had viewed it simply as a sin.

"With the wisdom of hindsight, we can see how inadequate the response was at the time of Mr Woodcock's offending and at the time people acted according to the expert advice (on sex offending) they received. Sadly that was inadequate."