Grueling testimony in a hearing meant to pull the curtain back on decades of clerical sex abuse in the New Zealand Catholic Church has taken a twisted turn. Abuse survivor Donald Daniel Ku took the stand on Wednesday in a review of New Zealand’s worst offender, Brother Bernard McGrath, who is serving a 33-year sentence for unthinkable abuse against children in his care.
Ku, now 58, told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse hearing that while he was at the Marylands School in Christchurch in 1963, McGrath made him and other boys take off their clothes and kneel in a circle while McGrath stuck his erect penis into their mouths.
Ku, who was in the care home because he is developmentally disabled, described the ordeal. “One time, he got a few of us boys into his room. We were all placed in a group on the floor without our clothes on, and we were kneeling,” Ku said in his written statement read at the hearing, which was livestreamed. “Brother McGrath would go around us all with his penis out and try to put his penis in our mouths. Some of the other boys seemed to know what to do, but I didn’t. When he tried to shove his penis in my mouth, I bit him.”
The school, which was described as a care home for “mentally subnormal and delinquent” boys is the center of the inquiry, seemed to be a preying ground for abusive priests like McGrath, who was the dormitory supervisor when he was there. Half of the 42 priests and clerics who worked there were accused of rampant sexual abuse of at least 144 of the 537 boys who attended the school.
Other punishments included hitting children with a crucifix, making the boys eat their own feces, or watch McGrath masturbate and be forced to touch or consume the semen.
“After a while, I started to just adapt to the sexual things that happened at Marylands,” Ku told the hearing. “I was also threatened by Brother McGrath to keep quiet about what was going on. Once he took me to the hospital morgue and showed me a corpse as a way of silencing me.”
Steven James Long, 56, another former student and victim of McGrath, also testified that the cleric threatened him and other young boys with death. He said McGrath showed him a corpse in the adjacent hospital morgue when he was 7 0r 8 and made him climb into a coffin and close the lid, according to minutes from the hearing. “He flipped me inside one of them and closed the lid,” Long said, according to the testimony. He said McGrath then pulled him out by the hair, told him that he would end up in there if he told anyone, and then raped him.
Long, who says he was also abused by another cleric, Brother Roger Maloney, and later went on to abuse drugs and alcohol to deal with the horrific experience.
McGrath and Maloney were both convicted of their crimes, but only McGrath remains incarcerated.
Wednesday was the first day of the public hearing that is expected to wrap up in June with a final report by the commission. More than 1,600 witnesses provided testimony about abuse by Catholic clerics. An interim report released in December on which this hearing is based estimates that in New Zealand, at least 256,000 people were abused in Catholic care homes, which is 40 percent of those entrusted to the church.