UP TO 30 perpetrators over four decades have molested children – including the children of priests – within the Anglican diocese of Newcastle, an emotional Bishop Greg Thompson said in an extraordinary interview after apologising to victims and the community on Wednesday.
Bishop Thompson marked his 500th day as head of the church in the Hunter by telling clergy ‘‘We can’t have mates looking after mates any more’’, and revealing some of the dark secrets being investigated by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
‘‘Some of our photos of clergy on the walls are going to be difficult to hang on the walls after the royal commission,’’ he said.
‘‘What is being revealed is the shadow lives of some.
‘‘They had this sense of self-entitlement that meant they had sexual relations with children as if that was a part of the role.’’
Bishop Thompson spoke of the shock he experienced after hearing ‘‘how things were done’’.
‘‘It told me it wasn’t just about bad apples, but about how the system failed the victims,’’ he said.
‘‘There was a system that protected people.
‘‘Bad apples don’t just happen. They happen because a system and a culture allows them to exist.’’
In June last year, the diocese was required to hand over more than 30,000 documents to the royal commission. A date for a public hearing in the Hunter is yet to be announced.
Bishop Thompson said he was horrified and appalled at what was revealed, and angered by what was missing. The lack of any reports of sexual misconduct by clergy during the time of some bishops, now dead, was ‘‘an aching matter’’.
‘‘The loss of files, that’s something the royal commission should be looking at,’’ he said.
‘‘The good that some people in the past did does not somehow balance out the fact that they allowed this to happen.’’
There was evidence that between 20 and 30 clergy, teachers and other Anglican church members in the Hunter sexually abused children, including the children of priests, over the past 40 years, the bishop said.
‘‘When these matters came to light the victims were not supported, and they were not believed. It’s a scandal.’’
During a media conference on Wednesday Bishop Thompson became emotional when talking about survivors of abuse.
During an interview later with the Newcastle Herald the bishop struggled while talking about empathy, his work as a priest before becoming Bishop of Newcastle, and his past.
‘‘I think I’ve worked extensively in places where there’s been abuse, in Kings Cross and in the Northern Territory. I’ve worked with women dealing with domestic violence.
‘‘I grew up in a world where domestic violence was called discipline. I was exposed to violence at a young age.’’
At a meeting with clergy at Lambton Anglican community hall on Wednesday, Bishop Thompson encouraged priests to speak to him, the police and the royal commission about their knowledge of abuse.
He has been strongly criticised by some within the church: ‘‘I feel like some people will hate me for saying this, because no one from that old culture wants the scrutiny.’’
But he received emails of support from some bishops after his apology on Wednesday, and some priests had expressed relief at being able to speak about matters that had troubled them in the past.
The diocese has paid more than $4million compensation to dozens of survivors of abuse.
There is pain to come when the royal commission exposes more about the past, but Bishop Thompson is positive about the future.
‘‘I embrace the royal commission. It is a watershed, not just for the church, but the wider community.’’