NEWCASTLE Anglican diocese has initiated disciplinary action against three former bishops condemned by the child abuse royal commission for their roles in failing to stop “a group of perpetrators” sexually abusing Hunter children for at least 30 years.
The diocese has referred former Bishops of Newcastle Alfred Holland and Roger Herft to the Australian Anglican Church’s Episcopal Standards Commission, and former Assistant Bishop Richard Appleby to the diocese’s professional standards committee, after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made adverse findings against them in December, 2017.
The commission found Archbishop Herft, who headed the diocese between 1993 and 2005, had a “weak and ineffectual response” to child sexual abuse allegations that was a “failure of leadership” which “showed no regard for the need to protect children”. The Perth archbishop resigned after his evidence to the royal commission in Newcastle in August, 2016.
The commission found Bishop Holland, whose tenure ran from 1978 to 1992, adopted a “do nothing” response to serious child sexual abuse allegations. His assistant bishop from 1983 to 1992, Richard Appleby, provided an “implausible denial” about his knowledge of a crime by child sex offender priest Stephen Hatley-Gray, and was directly told of child sexual abuse by priest George Parker, the commission found.
The discipline referrals followed a barrister’s report to Newcastle Anglican diocese in March with recommendations for action after the royal commission’s scathing assessment of decades of failure by church leaders in its 42nd case study final report.
In late March the diocese held disciplinary proceedings against three other convicted child sex offenders, priest Lindsay McLoughlin, lay preacher James Brown and trainee priest Ian Barrack. The royal commission exposed how senior Newcastle Anglican church leaders failed to respond to reports of their abuse. McLoughlin was defrocked and the diocese banned Brown and Barrack from ever holding church positions.
Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart said the referrals were part of the diocese’s response to both the royal commission final report released on December 15, 2017, and the final report into the diocese which was released a week earlier.
The response included establishing a four-member investigation and support team, including two former senior NSW Police detectives specialising in child sexual abuse and two counsellors, Bishop Stuart said.
The diocese has received new allegations against church representatives from the past whose names have not been previously linked with child sexual abuse, he said.
“We’ve had more people come forward with complaints about known historical offenders but we’ve had other people come forward with new historical offenders. These are matters which can span 60 years, back to the late 1950s,” Bishop Stuart said.
The diocese has so far paid about $4 million in compensation to abuse victims, and expects to pay about $11 million in total. The diocese is selling properties, including church buildings, to pay redress but also for other strategic aims, Bishop Stuart said.
It has already sold the Morpeth Theological College site to help meet redress payments. The royal commission heard evidence of child sexual abuse directly linked to the college, which produced notorious offenders including senior diocesan priest Peter Rushton, priests Robert Ellmore, Allan Kitchingman, Stephen Hatley-Gray and at least 12 other alleged and convicted child sex offenders.
The royal commission strongly criticised Bishop Holland for promoting Rushton in 1983 despite an allegation Rushton sexually abused the 5-year-old son of a junior priest, and despite six people reporting allegations about Rushton to him in 1979 and 1980. The commission rejected Bishop Holland’s denials of knowledge about Rushton’s sexual abuse of children.
The commission also rejected Bishop Holland and Bishop Appleby’s “implausible denials” about their involvement in the resignation of priest Stephen Hatley-Gray in 1990 to protect the church after he sexually assaulted a teenage boy at Wyong.
It found Bishop Holland took no disciplinary action against Hatley-Gray who was convicted for the crime, or warned other dioceses. There was evidence Hatley-Gray had a formal role in a memorial service in 1992 for two victims of notorious serial rapist Ivan Milat, the royal commission said.
The commission found the then Bishop Roger Herft’s “inaction to Rushton contributed to the diocese’s systematic failure to make perpetrators accountable for their conduct”.
“By February 2003 Heft could have been in no doubt Rushton had a history of behaviour that required investigation.”
Bishop Stuart said the Anglican Church had changed protocols about confession to improve child safety, and it was not an offence within the Anglican Church to report abuse allegations heard in confession to police.
He said the diocese was “taking each recommendation from the royal commission, looking at it and responding”.
“The community doesn’t want to hear of our intentions, they want to know what we’re doing,” he said.