BISHOP Roger Herft has acknowledged to the Royal Commission that the sexual assault reporting mechanisms during much of his time in Newcastle were inadequate for dealing with allegations of sexual assault on children by priests.
Questioned by counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp, Mr Herft agreed that a 1998 report by the church’s Tasmanian diocese had revealed large numbers of paedophile Anglican priests in that state, and that the Wood Royal Commission had also examined paedophilia, putting it on the national stage.
Mr Herft initially said he created the church’s policies but when Ms Sharp took him to those policies it emerged that they were more geared towards sexual matters between adults than child sexual abuse by priests.
When one document did mention child sexual abuse, it said: “Certain sexual behaviour with children constitutes a criminal offence.”
Bishop Herft began his evidence by confirming he had provided a statement to the commission on July 25, 2016, and a further statement dated today, August 12, 2016, as well as a further statement, dated November 6, 2013, in relation to another matter.
Mr Herft, who is now the Archbishop of Perth, was bishop of Newcastle from May 1993 until February 2005.
He said that when he arrived there were “very little records of any form or shape” and he began a process called “the committee to consider allegations of sexual misconduct” and that this policy was “very clear” from the start.
Facing repeated questioning from counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, Mr Herft said he understood in general that he had an obligation to report matters to police, but there were “conditions attached”.
He said he understood the church had to know the name of a complainant and a respondent before the police could take action.
He agreed that early on he “did not consider [he] owed an obligation to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police where [he] did not know the identity of the complainant”.
He agreed it was possible that if he confronted a priest about an allegation of child sexual abuse that he might deny it or not tell the truth.
Asked what would happen if a priest denied an allegation, he said that a person who had “made the commitment to sacred orders” would seek to tell him the truth.
Asked if a denial was enough for him to have “comfort” the allegation was untrue, Mr Herft said he did not think the word “comfort” was accurate.
The chairman of the royal commission, Justice Peter McClellan, asked him if he still had the same view.
“I have changed my opinion significantly, your honour, in my time as bishop,” Mr Herft said.
He confirmed a 1998 report from the diocese of Tasmania on paedophilia had been “presented” to the diocesian councils and that this report disclosed “a large number of clergy paedophiles operating in the Anglican church in Tasmania”.
Ms Sharp reminded him that the Wood Royal Commission had also dealt with paedophilia.
Mr Herft said paedophilia in the diocese was “a surprise” to him and he held “a high gospel view of those who claimed allegiance to Christ “ and he still believed “clergy would be above reproach in those matters”.
Asked about taking over from Bishop Alfred Holland, Mr Herft said there was no handover ceremony and that bishop Holland had left for a trip to Jerusalem.
He said dean Graeme Lawrence had been appointed “commissionary” by bishop Holland and Lawrence had told Herft what would be in his diary for the first little while.
He said there was no assistant bishop and believed this was because the diocese had lost money in “some sort of overseas borrowing matters”.
Asked whether Lawrence had told him about any child sexual abuse matters, he said: “No ma’am, certainly not.”
He believed bishop Holland’s assistant bishop, Richard Appleby, had left about two years before he arrived. He said bishop Appleby had never told him about child sexual abuse by clergy.
He confirmed that the subsequently disgraced paedophile Peter Rushton was archdeacon of Maitland but he was not close to him because there was a “tenseness” from the start because Rushton thought Herft’s “hands were tainted” because he believed in the ordination of women – which Rushton opposed. Rushton did not want Herft presiding at eucharist in his church because of his tainted hands.
He said Lawrence had a very strong position of leadership in the diocese at the time and because “deans and bishops are known to disagree with each other most of the time” he said he could not call the relationship with Lawrence “a friendship”.
He confirmed that Bruce Hoare was rector of Cardiff when he arrived, that Colvin Ford was an archdeacon and Peter Mitchell was registrar for all but two years of his time as bishop.
Mr Herft said he did not “see” that Lawrence, Hoare and Mitchell were “a gang of three” – as Colvin described them – in protecting Rushton.
He said he had not heard of a “caveat list” mentioned in earlier evidence but he volunteered that he had heard of the "black book”, which had names of people that bishops found difficult to deal with. He said early on there was a belief that having a black book was not part of “fair and natural processes”, and the books did not last long after he arrived in Newcastle.
He did not remember the black book as being focused on child abusers.
Ms Sharp: Did you ever see a black book?
Mr Herft: I can’t recall it.
Mr Herft was then shown a list – which had been examined in previous evidence –titled “S11 – Sexual harassment – sensitive information” – which said that information about offenders was “in small envelopes in front of this black book”.
Asked about it, Mr Herft said he could not recall ever seeing that document before.
“I can’t recall seeing this,” Mr Herft said.
“Did you at any time during your tenure as bishop see a black book with the names of clergy who were people of concern,” Ms Sharp asked.
“I can’t recall that,” Mr Herft said.
He agreed that a canon offences document of 1962 that dealt with scandalous behaviour applied when he arrived at Newcastle.
He was then shown a 1993 document from the diocese that set out the principles for dealing with sexual harrassment that said everything from “simple innuendo” through to “full scale rape” were serious matters.
He explained that the policy, at that time, said that “bishops or archbishops should not be involved in the process”, because it was framed for “adult acts of inappropriate behaviour”. He agreed with Ms Sharp that the policy was not prepared with allegations of child sexual abuse in mind.
Taken to a 1995 revision of the 1993 document, Mr Heft acknowledged Ms Sharp’s assessment that this document, also, was not “really geared towards child sexual abuse”.
The 1995 document referred to the 1966 clergy disciplining ordinances and Herft agreed that until 2002, the policy did not “take cognisance of child sexual abuse”.
Asked if there was no framework for dealing with child sexual abuse for the first half of his time as bishop, Mr Herft said: “I think that would be accurate, ma’am.”
Ms Sharp again reminded Herft that by this stage there had been the 1998 Tasmanian report, the Wood Royal Commission meaning paedophilia was on the national Anglican agenda, at least.
He was then taken to another document, titled Faithfulness in Service, which said in part that “Certain sexual behaviour with children constitutes a criminal offence.”
He was asked whether he was aware that failure to disclose knowledge of a serious offence was a legal obligation by 1999, he said there was “some discussion” that this observation should have been put in the document.
Mr Herft agreed with Ms Sharp that the Faifthfulness in Service document was not “an appropriate policy framework for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse”.
Taking Mr Herft to his July statement to the commission, Ms Sharp said he now recognised that the diocese was not able to properly deal with matters of child abuse because the procedures did not give those responsible “the mechanism to do that”.
Shown a “child sexual abuse report form”, Herft said he expected they would go to the registrar, who would pass them to him, although there was no formal policy for that to happen.
The commission has broken for lunch.