THE Anglican Bishop of Newcastle has admitted that church leaders knew about a culture of bullying and child abuse within the diocese and worked to conceal those offences.
In an emotional media conference at Lambton on Wednesday, Bishop Greg Thompson conceded that the church had failed abuse victims, and that he is now working with police and the Royal Commission to right the ‘‘wrongs of the past’’.
Today marks 500 days since he became the Bishop of Newcastle, he said, but during that time he had ‘‘discovered that our culture allowed bullying and abuse but was mostly silent about it’’.
‘‘Our culture allowed people to conceal what had happened,’’ he said.
‘‘I have heard these stories first hand. I believe we will hear recollections of anguish and harm for many years to come.’’
Bishop Thompson revealed that he was summoned by the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse last year. He said police were investigating ‘‘allegations of assaults by people associated with the diocese from the 1970s and the subsequent handling of child sexual assault claims’’. The broader investigation spans ‘‘nearly 60 years’’, he said.
The failures of the church had been ‘‘terrible’’, he said. People within the church ‘‘held offices of trust’’, but he assured that those people were no longer holding any role within the church and would not until the completion of investigations by police and the Royal Commission.
Bishop Thompson’s emotions got the better of him several times as he spoke of victims.
‘‘I am devastated by the accounts of abuse,’’ he said.
‘‘I am so sorry for the terrible harm done by a culture that would not listen. We must accept this part of our past.’’
The Newcastle Anglican diocese, he said, had already paid $4 million to victims but acknowledged ‘‘money is not the healer’’.
‘‘In the end, victims just want to be heard.
‘‘I know some of you have found it hard to speak up when you have been troubled or concerned,’’ he said in a direct appeal to victims.
‘‘We can face our past by speaking openly and fully, by learning to talk about this story in our communities.
‘‘To you who have experienced abuse I want you to know as a diocese we feel shame and profound regret that people within the church harmed you and harmed you again when you came forward to speak of what happened.
‘‘I want you to know that our strong professional standards practices and our commitment to responding to survivors are in place.’’