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Church Offers New Zealand Victims $2.2M

March 17, 2003

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ A Catholic order plans to borrow $2.2 million to pay damages to 56 men who were sexually abused by priests and staff, the order’s head said Monday.

The St. John of God Order hopes the payments, the largest ever offered by a religious order in New Zealand, will bring a ``sad and sorry situation to closure.″

The men, along with 20 others who are still to detail their claims, allege they were abused at the Marylands school for boys, which was run until 1984 in the southern city of Christchurch for students with learning disabilities.

The Australasia head of the order, the Rev. Peter Burke, said he wrote to 56 victims offering them compensation for their sexual abuse.

Burke said deciding how much to offer each man was the hardest decision of his life.

``I hope this will help you pay for things and get on with your life. It is made in good faith and reflects what the order truly believes to be fair and reasonable,″ he wrote in his letter.

No amount of money can heal hurt or abuse, and it ``is only a small part of the healing process,″ Burke said, adding that the settlement will not prevent victims from pursuing a criminal case.

Christchurch police are investigating the claims but have not filed any charges.

In the first admission of widespread sexual abuse involving priests and other church members, New Zealand’s Catholic Church publicly apologized in June, with bishops expressing ``grief and shame.″

Offenders now are sent for treatment in Australia and removed from public ministry upon their return.

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