Anglican bishop talks of profound regret

THE Anglican and Newcastle communities should prepare for ‘‘a storm’’ of revelations and anguish as police and the Royal Commission further investigate claims of sexual assault, bullying and concealment of those offences by clergy, Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson has warned.

In an emotional apology to victims on Wednesday, the bishop said that while he was ‘‘not privy to specific lines of police investigations’’, he knows the victims are many and he knows the diocese failed those victims.

‘‘There have been people who have been stood down and there will be more stood down as those matters come to light,’’ he said.

‘‘At the moment both the Royal Commission and police are conducting investigations into individuals of that era, and it’s hard for me ... I can’t speak about those people at this time, but people are being observed and people are being interviewed.’’

Standing in the church hall at Lambton, Bishop Thompson had to contain his emotions as he spoke of victims who had been abused my members of the Anglican clergy.

He said Wednesday marked 500 days since he became the Bishop of Newcastle, 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.’’

They were ‘‘not one-off matters’’, he said, but assured that those clergy who had abused the trust placed in them were ‘‘no longer in positions of trust’’.

Saying sorry: An emotional Newcastle Anglican Bishop, Greg Thompson, at the press conference. Picture: Darren Pateman

Saying sorry: An emotional Newcastle Anglican Bishop, Greg Thompson, at the press conference. Picture: Darren Pateman

‘‘I know that as a diocese in the past we failed some victims and survivors of sexual abuse,’’ he said. ‘‘Not only did we not support them when they came forward, but we fostered a culture that intimidated them and kept them silent.

‘‘As a father, a friend, a fellow human being, I am devastated by accounts of abuse.

‘‘I am so sorry for the terrible harm done, and by a culture that would not listen.’’ 

Some of the allegations relate to a period in the 1970s, he said, but a broader investigation spans the past 60 years.

The Newcastle Anglican diocese, he said, had already paid more than $4 million in compensation to victims of abuse.

‘‘We expect more people to come forward to seek more compensation,’’ he said.

‘‘We will meet those costs. But in the end, I think most victims want to be heard. 

‘‘Money is a way of getting through things but it’s not the healer. 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.

‘‘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.’’

The diocese has set up a new website that encourages victims and survivors to come forward. It provides links to police, the Royal Commission and the church’s professional standards office. It can be found at newcastleanglicanhealthyfuture.com