Police may go after the clergymen who hid abuse

Police are considering charges against Catholic priests involved in hiding Alan Woodcock's nine years of sexual abuse against schoolboys and young men.

Woodcock, 56, a former Marist priest, teacher and counsellor, was yesterday sent to jail for seven years for 21 sex offences committed between 1978 and 1987.

Judge Bridget Mackintosh, sitting in the Wellington District Court, noted that Woodcock would have faced a much stiffer sentence than the 10-year maximum available had the crimes occurred under present law.

The court had heard the details of how Woodcock was moved from school to school, and to other church facilities, after complaints against him.

But with each shift the abuse continued, sometimes against earlier victims.

In all there were 11 victims, all male, aged between 14 and 19.

Catholic Church authorities knew when Woodcock began teaching at St Patrick's College in Silverstream, Upper Hutt, in 1982 that he had a conviction for indecent assaulting an 18-year-old youth in Christchurch three years earlier.

They did not know that in 1978 he had taken a fourth former from St John's College in Hastings to a secluded area near Taradale, then pulled the boy's pants down.

But it was in 1982 that Woodcock's offending became most serious.

He took advantage of the fact that as music teacher and priest he was expected to provide counselling to St Patrick's College schoolboys in his private study and bedroom.

The offending involved oral sex, genital fondling, mutual masturbation and partly undressing boys and rubbing himself up against them.

He told one boy that he (the victim) was "becoming homosexual".

Woodcock, nicknamed Penis Radiata by boys at the school, threatened to cane one victim after the boy suggested he might report him.

When some of the victims did complain, the school head, Father Michael "Vince" Curtain, said he would investigate, but they were instead confronted by Woodcock.

Instead of contacting police or removing Woodcock from St Patrick's, Father Curtain was told by Father Fred Bliss, the previous rector and at the time head of the Society of Mary order in New Zealand, to keep him there until the end of the year and minimise his contact with students.

Nevertheless, the abuse continued. The next year Woodcock was moved to Highden, a Manawatu training facility for young priests, where he abused a former student from St Patrick's and attempted to have sex with another former pupil.

Later he was moved to Futuna, a Catholic retreat in Karori, Wellington, where he abused two more teenage boys.

Crown prosecutor Ken Stone said the effect Woodcock had on his victims was catastrophic.

One made several suicide attempts, and another had become sexually promiscuous with girls to prove he was not homosexual.

Judge Mackintosh said she accepted that Woodcock was now remorseful, and she took into account his early guilty pleas and the fact he had spent time in Brixton Prison on remand before his extradition from Britain.

But she also noted that Woodcock had fought extradition and had initially denied the charges.

Defence lawyer Greg King said Woodcock was "an intelligent, thoughtful, insightful person who has for many, many years struggled to come to terms with the enormity of the harm he has caused".

In a statement that Mr King read to the court, Woodcock said: "I do not deserve their forgiveness. What I did was unforgivable. I hate myself for it."

He had contemplated suicide and become addicted to crack cocaine while in Britain.

He, too, was a victim of sexual abuse at a young age, and entered the priesthood to suppress his homosexuality.

He had not offended sexually since leaving New Zealand in 1987.

Outside the court, the victim who first complained to the police about Woodcock a decade ago, St Patrick's old boy Terry Carter, now 37, called on the police to pursue anyone who knew about the offending but did not stop it or report it.

Asked whether anyone else might be charged, Detective Sergeant Murray Porter said he had discussed that with Mr Stone and would be reviewing the file shortly.