SUVA/AUCKLAND, 13 JULY 2020 (TVNZ) —For the last year 1 NEWS has been investigating claims of historic sexual abuse against children in Fiji’s Catholic Church.

TVNZ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver was in Fiji just before lockdown and spoke to some of the victims of the alleged abuse.

The abuse began when he was seven.

He among other young children kept the abuse quiet by the priests and brothers working and living near the Marist Brothers Primary School he attended in Fiji.

The sexual abuse happened so repeatedly the children thought it was normal.

“[There] were two main ones that would do it to us regularly. Almost like a daily thing,” the victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, told 1 NEWS.

The brothers along with priests who lived near or worked at the school lured the children into their homes with treats.

“While we’re playing around in the school compound they would call us. They’ve got these lollies in their hands, orange and chocolates.

“They call us and tell us you don’t tell anybody because we’re gonna have to share it and so we keep quiet,” he says.

The priests and brothers of the Catholic Church were untouchable, held up among the local residents as “messengers of God”.

They were so revered the young victim was too afraid to tell his father about what was happening to him.

“If I went and told my Dad I’d get a hiding.

“So, we kept it quiet and then it went on over and over and over again so we accepted it as normal.”

For this victim, the abuse he says started in primary school.

“Because we lived nearby we got used to the priests and the brothers. It’s like first when we get sick, we’d go to the sick bay and then one of these brothers usually comes and sits us on his lap and starts fondling us.”

Children from poor families were easy targets for the priests and brothers who used sweet treats to get them to step inside their homes, he alleges.

“Then they take us into their room and then they have a shower and come out without their towel, naked and they undress themselves and start fondling us.”

For eight years this young victim says he was sexually abused.

“For me there was two [abusers] particularly.”

He says the pair would regularly abuse the children at the school.

Sometimes the abuse would occur near their church.

“After school we’d walk down to the church, the Sacred Heart in town and the priests would call us, they know which ones to get. They resided behind the church so they’d start fondling us there.”

The alleged prolific sexual abuse wasn’t questioned by the children, he says.

“Because of what happened to us we thought it was normal.”

It wasn’t until three or four years ago, now an adult, that this victim of abuse realised what had happened to him under the care of the priests and brothers.

He began opening up to friends about his own experience and through those conversations others began to tell him stories of similar abuse.  

Hearing the horrific stories from others, he wanted to speak out, but the trauma from the abuse stopped others from agreeing to have their stories shared publicly.   

Most hadn’t been able to tell their families.

“If you share your story out in public you’re walking down the road and everyone’s going to start pointing their finger at you.”

1 NEWS’ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver spoke to a number of Fijians who say as children they were abused and raped by New Zealand and Australian priests, brothers and teachers. But so great is their shame they didn’t want to appear on camera, even unidentified.

“If you are a predator, a sexual predator, this is a fertile ground for grooming,” says Dr Murray Heasley from the Network of Survivors in Faith Based Institution.

“Inside Fiji it’s even more problematic because Fijian culture tends to hold these people in very high regard and give them massive access which they exploited.”

Dr Heasley, who leads a support group for survivors, is aware of the alleged Fijian Catholic abuse cases.

He says it was common practise for the church to move New Zealand Catholic abusers into the Pacific when suspicions or claims were made against them.

“Dangerous men shifted into very vulnerable communities where they are very unlikely to be outed,” he says.

1 NEWS has also obtained correspondence about Australian priest Julian Fox, showing the church knew about allegations of sexual abuse nine years before he was charged.

He was sent by the church to Fiji in 1999 after Australian police started investigating him. He was finally convicted and jailed in 2015 for child sex crimes.

Fiji’s Archbishop Peter Loy Chong says there’s been no reported cases of clergy abusing children in Fiji.

“We have a sexual abuse guideline which defines the process when somebody reports or presents an allegation.”

However, the victims who have spoken out about the alleged abuse do not trust the church.

They believe sexual abuse by clergy in Fiji, while secret, was widespread and the cycle of abuse has contributed to the country’s 1300 cases of reported child abuse last year.

For the victim who spoke to 1 NEWS the abuse he says he endured for years has taken a toll.

“It’s very hard in Fiji for a man to go out and say something happened. It’s very hard.”

Despite the stigma that comes with this, he still wants to speak out to help other abuse victims.

“Don’t protect me, I’m fine, but who’s gonna protect the other kids?

“I went to see the police. I went to see the women’s crisis centre. I went to see the social welfare department and I just told them this is what happened.

“Everybody’s aware but nobody’s wanting to take it further.”

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in care is seeking information about New Zealand priests and other religious perpetrators who were moved to the Pacific……PACNEWS