Church ‘spy’ complaint

IT’S the investigation that has everything – a defrocked priest, a former Newcastle lord mayor, spying allegations, and questions about the professional standards of a professional standards director.

Newcastle Anglican Diocese is keeping tight-lipped about a complaint involving its professional standards director Michael Elliott and his alleged attempts to view a service organised by a defrocked priest.

The diocese has confirmed it received a complaint after Mr Elliott was asked to leave the enclosed backyard of a unit  for vulnerable people, including domestic violence victims, on October 26.

The unit complex overlooks a former church building in the Newcastle area.

Mr Elliott is alleged to have identified himself when challenged, and to have told a complex employee he was looking for a vantage point to observe  a service organised by defrocked Newcastle  priest John Gumbley.

Mr Gumbley was defrocked in April 2010 by the diocese’s professional standards board for breaching sections of the Anglican code after a relationship with a woman parishioner who was also a diocese employee.

The service on October 28 was advertised for people concerned about decisions made by the diocese in recent times.

It is not known if Mr Elliott was authorised to attempt to view the service.

Former Newcastle lord mayor John McNaughton, who has been a vocal critic of professional standards board hearings that have resulted in the defrocking of a number of priests, including former Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence, was angered by the incident.

‘‘It’s a bit shabby of the church to be spying on its members,’’ Mr McNaughton said.

‘‘I went along to support John Gumbley. I’m calling on Bishop Farran to say if Michael Elliott was authorised to report who was at that service, and why that would be necessary.’’

In September last year Mr Gumbley lost a Newcastle District Court appeal  to force the diocese to hand over documents.

Mr Gumbley alleged that private journals from his computer were ‘‘stolen’’, but a solicitor for the diocese said the ‘‘stolen’’ reference was ‘‘an allegation, not a fact’’.

The diocese is investigating the complaint.

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