Mike Ledingham will have a Featherston book launch of The Catholic Boys. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Survivor’s abuse ‘just the tip of the iceberg’
Mike Ledingham joins his two brothers to tell story of abuse by Catholic priest

On the surface, the Ledinghams were a great example of a New Zealand Catholic family.

But in secret, three boys in the family were abused by the same paedophile priest as children, causing irreparable damage to them which continues to have an impact on their lives today.

Mike Ledingham, who until recently lived in Featherston, has returned to Wairarapa to launch an autobiographical account of the abuse in a book called The Catholic Boys.

The launch will take place on Sunday at 1.30pm at Messines Bookshop in Featherston.

Mike, who grew up in Auckland, attended Te Papapa Primary School and later Onehunga Convent.

The abuse took place at the latter by Father Francis Green who died in 1990.

“[The abuse] happened to me when I was 7 or 8 and I’m 69 now, so it’s been 60 years adrift with all of this going on in my head,” Mike said.

“It’s taken a long time. I’ve been writing the book for 25 years.”

In 2002, Mike and his brothers Gerard and Chris went public with their account of Green’s child molestation, and the Catholic Church made a financial settlement with them in the early 2000s.

The brothers had wanted to take action earlier, but with an unwell mother who was a devout Catholic, they decided against coming forward until after she had passed away.

“She had been brought up a Catholic all her life, and we couldn’t take that from her,” Mike said.

He said the abuse had made him “pretty messed up”, causing him to spend the first 20 years of his life “running and getting into trouble”.

“You don’t feel good about yourself, you know.”

Mike’s academic performance dropped when the abuse occurred, and he left school at a young age.

“I still believe the church is culpable,” he said.

“They were entrusted with our education, and they betrayed that trust.”

Mike served in the New Zealand Army from the age of 20 to 35 which he said was “good” for him.

Documenting the abuse and bringing the Catholic Church to account has also been somewhat therapeutic for Mike.

But he said there would never be closure for him or for other victims of sexual abuse.

“I do feel a lot freer, but we’re just the tip of the iceberg sadly.

“There are so many others”.

He estimated that about 30 other boys could have been abused by Green.

“When we went public in 2002, we were told we were liars – but all of a sudden, after we went public, a raft of other victims came forward.”

He said sexual abuse was “not something you willingly tell people about”.

“You feel ashamed, dirty, as though there is something wrong with you.

“I spent years not feeling too good about myself.

“Trusting people was hard.

“I always had to hold back, keep something for myself.

“But for anyone who is struggling on their own, you need to talk to someone.”

Dr Murray Heasley, the spokesman for the Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions and Their Supporters, said The Catholic Boys was a work of “enormous courage”.

“Few men have this courage to share such a nightmare,” he said.

“Until [Catholic Church hierarchy] shift their focus from protection of predators to that of listening to survivors and respecting their voices, the credibility of the Church and its priests, already in tatters, is likely to continue to decline in New Zealand society.”

In February 2018, the New Zealand Government announced a Royal Commission would inquire into historical abuse in state care.

In November, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the Royal Commission would be expanded to include the abuse of children in the care of faith-based institutions.

The Catholic Boys was published by BMS Books.

Need help?

If you feel you need help, talk to a friend or family member, or free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions and Their Supporters: murray.heasley@gmail.com

MOSAIC Wairarapa: 022 419 3416

Male Survivors Aotearoa: malesurvivor.nz

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

To contact the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions, visit www.abuseinstatecare.royalcommission.govt.nz