Wellington, New Zealand — The Catholic Church in New Zealand revealed Saturday it had documented 38 cases of sexual abuse by church officers in the past 50 years and offered victims an "unreserved" apology.
The cases included complaints against priests, monks and lay leaders for alleged abuse against adults, teenagers and children. It was the first admission of widespread sexual abuse in the New Zealand church.
The apology came in a written statement by the Rev. Tim Duckworth, the second-highest official in the Society of Mary, New Zealand's largest order of priests. Duckworth also said the church policy of moving offenders to other parishes or schools was wrong.
"I unreservedly apologize on behalf of brother priests and religious for the hurt that has been done by some few of our number," Duckworth said.
"With the benefit of hindsight, we find it hard to understand why we sometimes made decisions such as the geographical cure. I do not believe moving an offender helped anyone," he said.
Offenders are now sent for treatment in Australia and removed from public ministry upon their return.
Catholic communications director Lyndsay Freer said the repeat nature of offenders was not fully understood in the past.
"The church ... has come to understand the need for openness and transparency," she said.
Church authorities said they will now strongly recommend victims of sexual abuse to take criminal complaints to the police.
The apology comes as Roman Catholic officials in the United States revise their policies on abuse following revelations that senior clergy tried to conceal cases by moving known offenders to other parishes.