Inquiry into Abuse in Care urges Pacific witnesses to come forward
WARNING: This story contains discussions of sexual abuse.
It’s a public setting that has become Moeapulu Frances Tagaloa’s platform to share her once private pain.
This week, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care began their Faith-Based Redress Hearings. Survivors who had been abused in the care of Catholic, Anglican and Salvation Army establishments bravely came forward to give evidence of their abuse.
Frances spoke at great length and perseverance about the abuse she endured as a child at the hands of Brother Bede Fritton, a Marist Brother who taught at Marist Brothers Intermediate School in Ponsonby.
“I was introduced to Brother Bede by a friend who was a neighbour. She was a lot older than me. I was 5 so she was about 11 or 12. And she would walk me to and from school.”
“One day she said to me, ‘Oh, let’s go and see Brother Bede, we’ll play in his room and his classroom.’ He did little puppets and things like that, so I understood it to be a fun thing. But it didn’t stay like that. So unfortunately he did emotionally and sexually abuse me.”
For years Frances carried the emotional and mental burden of her abuse. An introverted teenager, Frances’ younger years were filled with self-loathing, indescribable anger and a dislike of male attention.
“I had blocked out a lot of stuff and wasn’t actually aware of my abuse at that stage,” said Frances.
“But then I started to have flashbacks, nightmares when I was around 17 years old.”
Serving as one of five commissioners for the Inquiry is Ali’imuamua Sandra Alofivae, who says there are many unfortunate commonalities of abuse survivors. “There’s a whole gamut along a spectrum,” says the Commissioner.
“If you think about mental health just from depression all the way through to suicide and insomnia and a whole lot more.”
“I think it’s really the missed educational and employment opportunities that come through really strongly, the broken, fractured relationships, some significant intimacy issues.”
For Frances, it was a renewed faith in Christianity that helped her gain back her confidence and self-worth. But with the nightmares and flashbacks yet to recede, and her relationship with her now husband, former All Black Timo Tagaloa becoming serious, a mentor from her University Christian group encouraged her to seek counselling.
“I thought ‘I really need to deal with what had happened.’ Cause’ I didn’t know how it would impact on our relationship or our marriage.”
Since Frances first told Timo of her experiences, Timo has been incredibly supportive of his wife. “It was obviously a shock, typically as we were dating and all that…but I just realized that she’s the woman that I love and I wanted to support her wholeheartedly.”
So yeah, I was just able to say, ‘Hey, what can I do that to continue to love you?’
Timo sat by Frances’ side throughout the hearing, and when given the opportunity to speak, he offered this Rambo quote for the Catholic legal representatives – “I’m comin’ after you.”
Timo’s words came from a place of frustration with what he felt was Church’s deliberate lack of discernment throughout Frances’ redress process. “I feel like, from what Frances was sharing that the leaders, and that’s the Catholics and all that, lack insight in the sense that here’s this abuse happening, these paedophiles and [they’re] not doing nothing about it.”
When Frances finally told her parents about the abuse in 1999, it was her mother who encouraged her to come forward and speak with the Catholic Church. But in seeking redress, she was directed to the same organisation that her abuser belonged to.
With no cultural awareness and a failure to offer any form of support, the process was ultimately disappointing. “They’re not survivor focused, you know, and they’re naturally wanting to protect the church and I think that just misses the point,” says Frances.
“We need survivors to be healed, you know, to have hope, to move forward in their lives. And I just don’t think they can do that.”
As Frances continued to seek answers from the Church regarding Brother Bede, she learned that he has since died. She also learnt that there were many others like her who had been abused by him. Despite knowing this, the Marist Brothers had a classroom named in Brother Bede’s honour. “One of the emails that I got sent more recently said that it was generally understood that Brother Bede was a good teacher in his younger days.”
“I wanted that removed and I wanted any honors removed.”
During the hearing, Frances proposed a number of recommendations for how the Church might better protect children and vulnerable people. Her suggestions include admitting women into priesthood, removing the seal of confession for crimes of sexual abuse and setting up an independent organisation to help survivors seeking redress.
But the biggest change Frances is advocating for is a change to Catholic canon law surrounding vows of chastity. “The thing that horrifies me the most is that in the Catholic Canon law, they do not call sexual abuse a crime.”
“They talk about it being an offense against the vow of chastity, but they don’t call it a crime. I just think that’s horrific, you know, the rest of the world would call sexual abuse a crime and I think it can be a simple change as well.”
She hopes that in the near future, the Church will become more culturally competent in how they deal with survivors of abuse. For Frances, the Samoan practice of seeking forgiveness through ifoga might be one way of helping her and her family move forward.
“2002 would have been the best time to do it when I first went to the Catholic Church. That was before my dad had Alzheimer’s and before my mum passed away,” says Frances.
“They were such advocates for me and such good support for me. And I know if my dad could, he would have been at the hearing to listen and he would have supported me so much. But I haven’t got that opportunity now. They can’t be there for the apology. They would’ve loved that.”
Frances is only the second witness of Pacific descent to give evidence. While she recognises the cultural and religious barriers that may hinder Pasifika people, she is urging anyone with similar stories to come forward. “I really want to encourage Pasifika if they know about any survivors that have [been sexually abused] by clergyman or faife’au, or priests to come forward to the Royal Commission.”
“They’ve been a huge support for me. They have amazing staff there, especially the Pasifika staff have just been amazing, they looked after me. They’ve surrounded me with other services as well, they’ve arranged any kind of therapy or counselling so I really encourage other Pasifika to come forward.”
Commissioner Ali’imuamua has echoed that call. “There’s definitely a Pacific story to be told, and this is why we’re incredibly grateful and why we’re calling for Pacific survivors, in all earnesty to come forward.
“Because in order for us to tell our story authentically, from our perspective, from a Pacific perspective, we want to be able to recognize, validate, and honour those voices.”
If you would like to share your abuse story with the Royal Commission, call them on 0800 222 727.
Watch Moeapulu Frances Tagaloa’s full hearing here.
By Alice Lolohea