Former priest jailed over historical sexual abuse of Wellington teenagers video

Fairfax Media, New Zealand/May 2, 2016

By Talia and Shane Cowlishaw

Four troubled Catholic schoolgirls each visited their priest's rooms, alone, seeking guidance.

What Peter Hercock did to the pupils of Sacred Heart in Lower Hutt instead left them feeling ashamed.

On Monday, the women broke their silence to expose the former priest for sexual abuse going back decades.

Three had complained to the Wellington archdiocese in the early 2000s. The church investigated and paid them settlements after Hercock confessed – but it did not tell police.

The trio and one other victim ultimately did, and on Monday in Wellington District Court, Hercock was sentenced to six years and seven months' jail after admitting the sexual offending against all four.

He stared blankly ahead as each read out statements in court, including Ann-Marie Shelley, whom he began grooming in 1971.

Thirteen years later, she was in emergency accommodation to escape her violent marriage when Hercock climbed through a window and raped her while her children slept.

She told how she was a teen in the grip of alcoholism when he encouraged her to disclose her darkest secrets to him.

She felt responsible for "causing a holy man to sin", she said. "To be raped by a priest is too great a trauma for a Catholic girl."

A second victim recalled Hercock's "calculated and ghoulish grooming" when she was 13.

During the pair's sessions, meant to help her cope with her father's depression, Hercock made her sit on his lap. Later, he invited her to the presbytery, gave her whisky and attempted to rape her, slapping her when she resisted.

 She did not go to her mother's funeral, fearing Hercock would be there.

"I still to this day find it hard to look at priests – even in movies," she said.

In 1973, Hercock began taking a 15-year-old girl to the presbytery.

She had gone to him for counselling as her father had died and her mother was mentally ill.

Hercock began with massages and, by 1976, progressed to sex at a Waikanae bach used by nuns.

He stopped when her older sister became aware and complained to Catholic social services.

She was confronted by a church member, the woman recalled. "They accused me of being a 'vile witch' and a 'jezebel'."

Like Hercock's third victim, the fourth's father had died when she was a child and her mother was mentally ill.

Hercock's "counselling" sessions included kissing and later sexual intercourse – until 1973, when the priest told her he was giving her up for Lent.

"I believed that I had somehow corrupted this man of God and led him into sin – and he never corrected me."

"You stole their fatih"

Hercock was living in Nelson and had long left the clergy by the time the complainants came forward.

His lawyer, Tony Bamford, said his client had been sexually abused by a clergyman when he was a schoolboy.

But Judge Bill Hastings told Hercock: "You knew what you were doing and knew it was wrong.

"You stole from these women something that makes all of us more human: the ability to have lasting, satisfying, mutually supportive relationships.

"You also stole their faith. There can be no greater hypocrisy for a priest."

Cardinal John Dew said the church was apologetic. In the early 2000s it had acted in what it believed was the best interests of the victims.

"We just know this should never have happened, and we regret that it ever did."

Rape survivors' advocate Louise Nicholas was in court to watch Shelley waive her name suppression, as Nicholas had done when accusing police officers of raping her. Afterwards, she praised Shelley's determination.

"What you've got to remember is you don't need to carry the shame or the blame that this happened. That is now on the person that has harmed you."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos