Royal Commission and its investigation of Newcastle Anglicans

FOR the past two weeks, the Hunter public has heard graphic and often shocking details of sexual abuse of children by priests of the Anglican diocese of Newcastle.

Other actions, while perhaps not illegal, are nonetheless hard to reconcile given the role of the church in its devotion to the spiritual and pastoral well-being of its flock.

As its title suggests, this Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is more concerned with the ways that allegations of abuse were historically handled, than with the detail of the allegations themselves.

That said, the commission has established that at least 30 cases of child sexual abuse by priests were known to the diocese. It has also become clear that senior figures in the diocese had ample knowledge of the misdeeds of its clergy, at the time their crimes or moral failings were committed, or very soon after. Unfortunately, it was not until the current director of professional standards, Michael Elliott, began in 2009 at the behest of business manager John Cleary that the diocese did anything to clear the sexual skeletons from its closet.

Mr Elliott told the commission of the opposition he has faced in doing his job, especially as it relates to Graeme Lawrence, the former well-known dean of Newcastle. Lawrence is one of five church figures defrocked or disciplined in 2012 over allegations of sexual abuse dating from the early 1980s, and related to the commission by a survivor, code-named CKH.

Mr Lawrence, who is yet to give evidence, clearly has his supporters to this day. They believe his disciplinary proceedings denied him procedural fairness. CKH would say he was denied his childhood. But regardless of the legality, or illegality, of individual sexual encounters, the bottom line is that the Anglican church – like its Catholic counterpart – has set itself up as an upholder of standards and a defender of all that is supposedly “good”. In this light, the actions of the former bishop of Newcastle, Roger Herft, in tipping off Lawrence of allegations against him, are all the more astounding. At the very least, they are another example of a diocese that said one thing, but did another.

All too often, those giving evidence claimed little or no knowledge of the crimes of their brothers, as though this will excuse them of responsibility.

While the church will not remember, its victims are unable to forget.

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