The leader of Christian community Gloriavale is accused of indecently assaulting 10 girls across more than 20 years, it can be revealed.
Name suppression lapsed today for Howard Temple, following his appearance in the Greymouth District Court.
Court documents allege the 83-year-old is accused of 24 charges of indecent assault involving 10 female complainants who were aged between 9 and 20 at the time of the alleged offending.
He also faces three charges of doing an indecent act.
The alleged offending took place between 1998 and 2022.
Temple appeared before Judge Jane Farish on Wednesday in the Greymouth District Court.
His lawyer, Michael Vesty, said Temple pleaded not guilty to the charges and wanted to have a judge-alone trial.
He was released on bail until October 31.
Temple declined to make any comment when approached by media before his appearance.
“I’ve got nothing to say.”
Temple, an ex-US navy engineer took over from Neville Cooper, the secretive religious commune’s controversial leader and convicted sex offender, also known as Hopeful Christian, when he died in 2018.
Formerly called Howard Smitherman, he visited New Zealand during his naval service, prompting a move here and a marriage to a Kiwi woman.
On Cooper’s death, he became the ‘Overseeing Shepherd’s Appointed Successor’ and led a group of senior shepherds that includes Hopeful Christian’s son Mark Christian, Samuel Valor, and Enoch Upright. He has been in leadership roles for over 40 years.
However, that senior leadership group was broken up after Operation Minneapolis – a police investigation, in partnership with Oranga Tamariki, into sexual and physical abuse inside Gloriavale – identified at least 60 people involved in “harmful sexual behaviour”.
In October last year, the community’s leaders conceded that the community’s belief system – including past scepticism of state agencies and dependence on biblical teachings to respond to criminal offending – likely contributed to the extent of the abuse.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into State Abuse expanded its scope earlier last year to three closed-community faiths: Gloriavale, Exclusive Brethren and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Temple and acting principal of Gloriavale Christian School Rachel Stedfast appeared before commissioners.
Their testimony provided new insight into the inner workings of the fundamentalist Christian community in the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Several cases of abuse at Gloriavale have emerged in the past three decades, including the jailing of founder Hopeful Christian on sexual abuse charges in 1995.
In his written submission, Temple claimed the community was not fully aware of the extent of sexual and physical abuse within Gloriavale until 2020, when police carried out Operation Minneapolis.
“We were shocked … when many issues of harmful sexual behaviour … came to our attention,” he said.
This was partially because Hopeful Christian – who died in 2018 – had dealt with all complaints and confessions and his records “died with him”, Temple said. Complaints only started being properly documented in 2021.
Gloriavale’s leaders said the community’s unique living situation and beliefs may have played a role in the nature and extent of abuse within the population of around 500 people.
It had historically responded to allegations of abuse internally, through a faith-based process and its own investigations.
“We did not understand that sexual abuse offenders often find it difficult, if not impossible, to fully repent of their behaviour, and we found that victims often took years to overcome their resultant trauma, if they were able to, even if they were dealing with it in faith.”
When allegations were made, police were never called because Gloriavale did not believe in outside help. This approach was underpinned by the Bible passage that “a brother should not be taken before the ungodly for judgment”.
Gloriavale’s guiding document, What We Believe, may also have played a role in perpetuating abuse because one of its core teachings was submitting to one another, Temple said.
“As adults, we always understood that we only submitted to things of a godly nature. We have discovered that in the mind of a child, this concept could easily be manipulated to create a power imbalance that leads to abuse.”
Temple said Hopeful Christian had told women at Gloriavale they could avoid abuse by dressing modestly, not flirting, and not “leading on” men. This had led to a culture in which sexual abuse victims were afraid to speak up because they felt they were to blame.
Christian’s doctrine was removed in 2019 after it was found to have created “an atmosphere of fear” and a “haven for offenders”.
Since the 2020 police operation, Gloriavale said “it was obvious that our own tactics had failed” and it committed to working with police, Oranga Tamariki and other agencies to properly protect vulnerable people and support victims. It developed a detailed child protection policy last year.
It had also altered long working hours and had outsourced some of its manufacturing work to give families more time together – in a bid to increase parental oversight of their children.
Gloriavale was formed by Neville Cooper (later Hopeful Christian) in 1969 at Springbank in Canterbury before moving to Gloriavale on the West Coast.
While it was a reclusive community, its leaders said they were not blind to a social revolution in combating sexual abuse in recent years.
“The rise of the #MeToo movement made us more aware of the extent and effects of abuse and we determined to seek counselling for victims and offenders.”