The royal commission into child sexual abuse has found powerful paedophiles in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle were operating under weak church leadership.
Thursday’s report follows another into the national Anglican Church which found that every church diocese in the country, bar one, had received complaints of child sexual abuse in the past 35 years.
The commission looked at alleged child abuse, bullying and cover-ups within the Newcastle diocese, producing a report of more than 400 pages just on the Newcastle Anglicans.
It has found former Newcastle Anglican Bishop Roger Herft’s response to abuse was “weak, ineffectual and noted a failure of leadership”.
It added that there was a “do-nothing” approach in the diocese in response to child sexual abuse allegations.
Former Bishop Herft quit as the Anglican Archbishop of Perth in December last year after damning evidence about his leadership came to light.
The commission found former Bishop Herft as well as another ex-Bishop, Alfred Holland, showed a distinct lack of leadership and alleged perpetrators were not called to account.
The commission has concluded a powerful network of insiders were operating in the diocese under Bishop Herft, including the defrocked former dean Graeme Lawrence.
Herft must have known about Rushton
Father Peter Rushton was identified by the commission as a serial abuser and a bully.
“He often threatened alleged victims or their families with legal action after hearing allegations of child sexual abuse made against him,” the commission found.
The commission concluded that Bishop Herft, who was led the diocese from 1993 to 2005, must have know about the notorious paedophile.
“We are satisfied that, by the end of February 2003, Bishop Herft could have been in no doubt that Father Rushton had a history of behaviour that required further investigation,” the report said.
“Bishop Herft’s inaction with respect to Father Rushton contributed to the systematic failure of the diocese to make perpetrators accountable for their conduct.”
Praise for two former bishops
There was praise in the royal commission’s report about two former bishops from the diocese.
Former Bishop Greg Thompson resigned this year after a long fight to expose the decades-old culture of abuse and cover-ups in the diocese.
He told the commission he was the bishop not welcome in his own cathedral, after some parishioners actively tried to remove him and questioned his own claims about being abused.
“People thought their friendships were more important than the truth of what was going on in that diocese,” the former bishop told the ABC.
He and another former Newcastle bishop, Brian Farran, “took appropriate responses against alleged perpetrators”, the report said.
The report noted the two church leaders provided survivors with pastoral care and faced a considerable backlash over their actions.
Church leaders only protecting themselves
A major systemic issue identified by the report was the leadership focus on protecting the reputation of the church and its powerful and influential members.
“Abusive and predatory sexual relationships were misrepresented as consensual homosexual relationships,” it said.
Conflicts of interest relating to the diocese’s former legal team and accused priests were also identified.
“There was a lack of awareness of, or policies on, avoiding conflicts of interest in responding to child sexual abuse matters,” the report said.
“Conflicts of interests often involved lawyers who held positions in the diocese and acted as legal representatives for those charged with child sex offences.”
The commission found that there were decades of cover-ups of child sexual abuse.
“Those who reported allegations of child sexual abuse to senior clergy were treated as if they had fabricated the allegations and were sometimes threatened with legal action,” the report said.
“The cumulative effect of a number of systemic issues allowed a group of perpetrators to operate within the diocese for at least 30 years.”
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