ON day 12 of a most extraordinary public hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, retired Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran’s statement about some of his former parishioners barely rated a raised eyebrow.
“They were out to get me," he said about supporters of the now defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.
They were described as a group of 15 “quite senior professionals”, concentrated on Newcastle’s Christ Church Cathedral.
They complained about Bishop Farran to the most senior levels of the Australian Anglican Church and, astoundingly, about current Bishop Greg Thompson to royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan in April.
At the centre of complaints was the bishops’ handling of child sexual abuse allegations involving clergy, with agitation starting in 2010 after professional standards hearings in Newcastle against Graeme Lawrence and four others.
For several weeks in August the royal commission heard evidence about decades of child sexual abuse within the Hunter’s Anglican Church, the culture that supported it, and the deep divisions that occurred when the diocese started to address the issue.
In September the royal commission held a separate public hearing into child sexual abuse in the Catholic diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, before resuming the Anglican hearing on Wednesday.
The one stark difference between the Anglican and Catholic hearings is the prominent involvement of lay people in the Anglican diocese’s responses to abuse allegations. Evidence so far has veered from troubling to disturbing and alarming.
Lawyers holding diocesan positions have represented clergy charged with child sexual abuse; there are serious questions about the diocese’s involvement with a 2001 court case against one of its priests, and victims of abuse have been callously treated.
During evidence on Wednesday former diocesan solicitor Robert Caddies – one of the 15 who complained about Bishops Farran and Thompson – said he was concerned that accused priests had been denied fair processes. But in evidence to the commission he conceded at least some of his serious complaints about Bishop Thompson relied on not much more than hearsay and gossip.
The hearing is a light shining on the diocese’s darkest history.