Royal Commission will hold Hunter Catholic public hearing after historic Anglican hearing from August 2

THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will hold a public hearing into the Catholic Church in the Hunter almost immediately after an Anglican Church public hearing in Newcastle from August 2.

Back-to-back hearings will confirm the Hunter as Australia’s epicentre of institutional child sex abuse only three years after a NSW Special Commission of Inquiry exposed shocking systemic protection of paedophile priests within the Catholic Maitland-Newcastle diocese over decades.

A date and details for the Hunter Catholic public hearing – the 43rd to be held by the royal commission since 2013 – are expected to be released in the next week on the eve of a proposed two-week Anglican hearing at Newcastle Courthouse from August 2.

The Hunter Catholic hearing is expected to start in late August before the 44th public hearing into Armidale priest John Farrell starts in Sydney on September 12.

News of the back-to-back hearings comes after more shocking revelations about senior Hunter Anglicans failing to stop known paedophile priests including Peter Rushton and James Brown, and a backlash against Bishop Greg Thompson and senior diocesan officers that has included death threats for challenging the “mates” culture of abuse.

In 2015 Bishop Thompson delivered a landmark apology to the Hunter region after evidence more than 30 church perpetrators had lived “shadow lives” over decades and been protected by others.

Both the Anglican and Catholic hearings will hear evidence that despite many child sexual abuse reports being made directly to bishops and the Hunter’s most senior clergy over decades, both major churches failed to refer allegations to police for investigation.

The hearings will confirm there was “a concentration of paedophiles and a failure of leadership in the Hunter that had catastrophic consequences for children”, said Bob O’Toole, a victim of a Hunter Marist Brother who played a lead role in the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.

“I have no doubt this region is the epicentre of paedophilia in this country,” Mr O’Toole said on Friday.

The hearings will confirm there was “a concentration of paedophiles and a failure of leadership in the Hunter that had catastrophic consequences for children”, said Bob O’Toole, a victim of a Hunter Marist Brother who played a lead role in the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.

“I have no doubt this region is the epicentre of paedophilia in this country,” Mr O’Toole said on Friday.

“It is a sad and sobering situation we face. It’s what we worked for in the campaign for a royal commission and it’s appropriate we’re having back-to-back hearings in the Hunter as the royal commission nears the end of its public work.”

Former senior Newcastle Anglican clerics including Bishops Roger Herft, Brian Farran, Alfred Holland and Richard Appleby are expected to give evidence about their knowledge of abuse allegations over decades.

This week the ABC reported Bishop Herft said it would be inappropriate to comment on a diary note allegedly written by him in 2002.

The note was reportedly made after a priest told him Peter Rushton had sexually abused a child.

“This information that had been shared left me in an unenviable position. Father Peter had my licence (to be a priest) and if he re-offended I would be held liable as I now had prior knowledge of his alleged behaviour,” the diary note is reported to have said.

In 2014 a former Newcastle Anglican church employee told the Newcastle Herald he repeatedly warned the diocese, from as early as 1984, that a "network" of paedophile priests preyed on children, but the diocese failed to act on the warnings.

"I told them in 1984 that 'You've got a network of these bastards preying on altar boys', and I named names," the former church employee said.

In 2010 Bishop Farran apologised to victims of Father Peter Rushton after confirming allegations he was an offender over four decades and part of a broader network of paedophiles in the Hunter.

A Newcastle Anglican diocese document shows Bishop Farran took professional standards action against former Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence after allegations of abuse and evidence showing he was told directly in 1997 that Rushton sexually assaulted children.

Rushton was one of five clergy on a diocese board that from 1987 considered child sex allegations involving clergy.

One of Rushton's former Wallsend parish colleagues, Eric William Griffith, was jailed for 18 months in 1992 after pleading guilty to child sex offences at Bellingen after he was transferred from the Newcastle diocese.

Other convicted Newcastle Anglican offenders include Robert Ellmore, jailed for nine years for offences against children over more than four decades; trainee priest Ian Neil Barrick, jailed for two years for offences against a 14-year-old in 1998; Allan Kitchingman, jailed for offences against a 14-year-old in 1975; and Stephen Hatley Gray, 68, a former rector of Wyong given a good behaviour bond after sexually abusing a juvenile in 1990.

In 2012 James Michael Brown, a former board member of the Anglican church's St Alban's Boys Home at Aberdare, was jailed for offences against 20 boys while he was a youth worker between 1974 and 1995. Rushton was on the St Alban’s board.

St Alban's was described by the diocese as providing "a caring environment for boys who had no place to live".

The Hunter Catholic public hearing is expected to consider the knowledge by church hierarchy of widespread abuse including the extent of child sex offenders in Marist Brothers schools at Maitland and Hamilton over decades.

Since it was established in November 2012 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has held 42 public hearings, received more than 31,000 calls, held more than 5500 private sessions and referred more than 1600 matters to authorities including police.