Church tricked into paying for false claims

Catholic Church was duped by false documents.
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Catholic Church was duped by false documents.

The Catholic Church told police it was duped into paying $188,000 to a woman who claimed she was injured when raped by a priest. 

The police only became aware of the woman's claims that she was raped by a Palmerston North Catholic priest - who abused her with a knife and a broken bottle - when the church learned it had been duped out of the payments. 

The woman, who has name suppression, appeared at the Morrinsville District Court on Wednesday, June 8, to be sentenced on one charge of obtaining by deception $188,190.17 from the Catholic Church, which paid for various medical operations and psychological tests in relation to the abuse claim. 

The woman supplied fake medical reports to the church to support the claim. 

The fraud was discovered only when the church queried one of the reports with a health provider. 

In 2013, the woman told the Palmerston North Catholic Diocese that a priest had raped her. The alleged rape and sexual abuse were reported to have happened in October 1985.

The complaint was handled in-house by the Palmerston North Catholic Diocese Protocol Committee, which deals with allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

In the Morrinsville District Court, the former chair of the protocol committee told the court that the woman took advantage of her goodwill. 

"I believe her fraudulent claims have damaged the claims of men and women who have suffered genuine abuse and has caused psychological harm to persons like myself, who give their time to support victims," she said as part of her victim impact statement. 

"This is tragic because I know very well that it takes enormous courage to come forward with a story of abuse." 

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The former chair told the court that the money taken by the defendant was given by church-goers who are "ordinary working people who try to support worthwhile activities". 

"I was duped and indeed cynically mocked by one of my own gender who blatantly lied ... fraudulently secured a large sum of money for her own use and committed a grave injustice on an innocent man." 

The court summary of facts revealed the woman claimed that the priest used a knife and broken bottle to violate her and that she suffered severe physical and psychological consequences spanning 28 years.  

She said she had been abused for several months in 1985 by the priest. 

The woman provided medical reports by a psychiatrist and a general practitioner supporting her claim as well as emails purportedly from other victims of the same priest.  

An independent investigator working for the church at the time found that the information provided was legitimate. 

The woman wanted her complaint to be kept confidential and dealt with only by the church. Her lies were discovered when the woman claimed she was having her kidney removed at Southern Cross Hospital. 

The diocese inquired about the operation with Southern Cross and were informed it does not perform that procedure. 

The diocese then made further inquires with the hospital about the authenticity of another document on a Southern Cross letterhead that detailed a number of operations she had undergone to reconstruct her genitals, anus and breasts. 

The woman was paid $133,592.84 for the procedures. All claims, as well as the emails from other purported victims were fake. 

The church made 15 payments to the woman's bank account totalling $188,190.17.

She is due to appear at the Hamilton District Court on June 27 for sentencing. 

* If you or someone you know needs information or help after a sexual assault or abuse, contact ACC's sensitive claims unit confidentially on 0800 735 566. See toah-nnest.org.nz for information on where to seek help if you have experienced sexual violence or become concerned about harmful sexual behaviour towards others.

 - Stuff

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