NEWCASTLE Christchurch Cathedral’s parish council has been sacked, and senior Anglicans have been stood down, after the royal commission heard evidence of “coordinated opposition” to Bishop Greg Thompson following public statements that he was sexually abused by a bishop.
In a statement on Wednesday the diocese confirmed Dean of Newcastle Stephen Williams had “stood people down from leadership roles in the liturgy”, and Bishop Peter Stuart, on behalf of Bishop Thompson, had dissolved the cathedral parish council.
The action was taken in consultation with Newcastle Anglican diocesan council.
It came after explosive evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse sitting in Newcastle, where commission chair Justice Peter McClellan accused solicitor and former diocesan lawyer Robert Caddies of leading “coordinated opposition” to Bishop Thompson.
This followed a complaint from a group of senior Anglicans to the royal commission in April, questioning Bishop Thompson’s “unsubstantiated” claim he was groomed and sexually abused by two senior clerics, including the late Bishop Ian Shevill.
The bishop revealed the abuse in a Newcastle Herald article in October, 2015.
“If the allegation were correct, Bishop Thompson apparently took no action at the time, and until recently, to report the supposed abuse, thus potentially exposing younger members of the diocese to the danger involved,” the Newcastle group wrote.
The tabling of the letter on August 30 led to an exchange between Mr McClellan and Mr Caddies, in which Justice McClellan questioned whether the group was “seeking to say to the royal commission that because it’s taken so long, the bishop’s credibility should be looked at?”
The letter was signed by Mr Caddies and his wife, former Newcastle Lord Mayor John McNaughton and his wife, church wardens Simon Adam and Andrew Traill, solicitor, synod and parish council member Greg Hansen, synod member Laurie Tabart, parish council members Suzanne Evans and William Scott, former parish council member David Stewart and his wife, heritage adviser Stephen Booker, and Pamela Dowdell, Lyn Scanlon and Virginia Wheeler.
In the Herald on Saturday Bishop Thompson said he was “shaken” when he saw the letter during the royal commission.
“It is very sad that a bishop is not welcome in his own cathedral,” he said.
Bishop Thompson described Justice McClellan’s fiery questioning of Mr Caddies as “a validation”.
“Although it was only 20 minutes of evidence it was a message to those who had sent the letter. They weren’t going to walk away without knowing how it had been received,” he said.
In evidence to the royal commission Mr Caddies acknowledged he had challenged Bishop Thompson’s credibility, after Justice McClellan questioned him about a statement to the royal commission in which he said: “I question if Bishop Thompson was in fact abused, why didn’t he report it earlier?”
Justice McClellan questioned Mr Caddies about the “very serious division” in the diocese that started with professional standards hearings in 2010 against Graeme Lawrence after child sex allegations against him.
“You’re in one side of the divisions, aren’t you?” Justice McClellan said.
“Yes, I probably am, your Honour,” Mr Caddies said.
Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp questioned Mr Caddies about a “bloc” associated with Newcastle Christ Church Cathedral that was “seeking to undermine Bishop Thompson at the moment”.
“I wouldn’t call it a bloc, but they are people, they’re diverse people from all walks of life and from various places in Newcastle in that list. I wouldn’t call them a bloc,” Mr Caddies said.
He denied the group was trying to undermine the bishop.
“No, I don’t think it is quite the position. We have concerns about him and in relation to management of the diocese,” Mr Caddies said.
In a statement on Wednesday the diocese said the cathedral board would take over responsibilities of the cathedral parish council.
The diocese will lead a parish recovery process on Sunday.
“These measures align with the diocese’s significant effort to improve the culture of the diocese and our strong professional standards practices,” the statement said.
The royal commission will resume its public hearing into the Anglican diocese of Newcastle from November 16, with Mr Caddies to resume his evidence.