Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the Newcastle Anglican diocese day 13 | live blog

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Justice Peter McClellan.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Justice Peter McClellan.

The Royal Commission resumes for its 13th day of hearings on Thursday. 

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s events with Joanne McCarthy and Ian Kirkwood:

4.03pm The Royal Commission has adjourned for the day. The hearing will resume at 9.30am on Friday.

Recap of Thursday:

2.04pm The Royal Commission has resumed after the lunch break.

Retired Bishop Brian Farran is now being questioned about arrangements made for the meeting with survivor CKH, after Farran thought he would not defrock former Dean Graeme Lawrence.

Farran has already told the commission that it was at the meeting with CKH that he decided to go ahead and defrock Lawrence.

Farran has denied trying to meet with CKH without professional standards director Michael Elliott. He has also denied standing down business manager John Cleary for a day or so in September 2012, and in his place appointing Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart “in relation to the action you were going to take with respect to Graeme Lawrence and others”.

Farran is now being questioned about a diocesan council meeting on August 17, 2012 where the council resolved to establish a working party to look at amending the professional standards ordinance.

Michael Elliott asked to be at the meeting. Farran said he did not want Elliott there because “for some people Michael’s presence was incendiary and I thought it would be totally counterproductive, for the good of the professional standards regime, if certain members of the diocesan council reacted to Michael’s presence”.

At a subsequent Synod in October 2012 an amendment was adopted so that determinations of the professional standards board would be made to the bishop and respondent alone.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp: “That had the effect that neither the public nor the complainant would be present when the board announced its determination and recommendation?”

Farran: “Yes, that’s – it was very unfortunate.”

The amendment was subsequently appealed.

Farran has just told the royal commission that professional standards matters involving church people had become “too in-house”.

I think that this whole process should be removed from the church. I think it is too difficult for the church to undertake. - Retired Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran about the Anglican Church investigating sexual abuse complaints against clergy.

Farran: “I think that this whole process should be removed from the church. I think it is too difficult for the church to undertake. I think that if you look into the future, membership of the church is going to decline fairly rapidly and the availability of people with professional skills to be members of boards, will be limited. I think in terms of the person who had to undertake it as the bishop, that’s according to the ordinance, there is really huge potential of conflict of interest and I experienced that, i think probably of all the bishops in Austalia at the moment I’ve probably, because of the number of cases that were through Newcastle and because of the high profile of them, I was the one who experienced it. I think that to act totally with integrity you are subjected to huge pressures and I think that that needs to be removed.”

Farran suggested an independent body, possibly established by state governments, to investigate and make decisions about defrocking and disciplinary action.

Farran: “I think really the morality of the church has been compromised and I think what has to happen in order to restore that is that there has to be absolute transparency and it needs to move out of that – out of the church itself into a body like that.”

He conceded there may be issues with “church and state”.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan: “I know how the church is organised and I know the complexities of that, but is it not conceivable that the church could come together to provide some national or state-based body within the church?”

Farran: “The Anglican Church of Australia has a very poor record of doing things together nationally, unfortunately.”

McClellan: “I have heard about that. Do you think it is possible or not?”

Perplexed: Retired Bishop Brian Farran.

Perplexed: Retired Bishop Brian Farran.

Farran: “I don’t think it’s possible. I really think the churches have been so compromised by this, and other bodies, I’m not just going to lay it on the churches. I think that sporting organisations and things like that have been so compromised by how they have handled sexual abuse of children that it must be taken out into an independent body.”

Farran is now being questioned about St John’s Theological College at Morpeth and counsel assisting Naomi Sharp has read out a roll call of offenders from that college, who were at the college either when Farran was there, or in the years afterward.

Farran was at Morpeth between 1962 and 1964.

Allan Kitchingman was choirmaster at the time, and went on to be a priest who was later convicted of child sex offences.

The priest known as CKC was there as a student while Farran was there. CKC was later charged with child sex offences.

Peter Rushton was a student while Farran was at Morpeth, “and we know now that Peter Rushton was a prolific paedophile”, said Sharp.

Graeme Lawrence also attended Morpeth while Farran was there.

Priest Stephen Hatley Gray was at Morpeth in 1972, and went on to be convicted of child sexual assault.

Robert Elmore was a student in residence at Morpeth between 1974 and 1977, and was later convicted of child sexual assault.

Eric Griffith was a student in 1976 and was convicted in 1992 of child sexual assault.

Ian Barrick was at Morpeth in 1998 and was convicted of child sexual assault.

Sharp: “Is it remarkable that so many child sex offenders attended the one theological educational institution?”

Farran replied that it was “remarkable”, but “there are some churches that I presume focus on people of certain sexual orientation more than others, and it might be that that is what has happened. I don’t know”.

Convicted: Anglican priest Allan Kitchingman

Convicted: Anglican priest Allan Kitchingman

Farran went on to say that when he was at Morpeth there were “people who might have been gay”.

Convicted: Trainee Anglican priest Robert Elmore.

Convicted: Trainee Anglican priest Robert Elmore.

Sharp: “Bishop Farran, it’s one thing to be homosexual..”

Convicted: Ian Barrick.

Convicted: Ian Barrick.

Farran: “Oh, yes.”

Convicted: Father Eric Griffith.

Convicted: Father Eric Griffith.

Sharp: “It’s a very different thing to be a paedophile?”

Farran: “Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.”

Farran is now being questioned about a letter sent to him in June 2009 by the then Anglican Primate of Australia Philip Aspinall, with reference to a report by Professor Patrick Parkinson into child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church in Australia, and what Parkinson referred to as “the Morpeth issue”.

In the report Parkinson said “the figures for Morpeth certainly look like a significant over-representation”.

Parkinson went on: “It was important, however, that the information be presented to the church and not buried by the research team. It is a disturbing statistic. We do think it warrants some form of further inquiry.”

Aspinall notes that the General Synod standing committee requested that the comments be drawn to the attention of Bishop Farran and the diocese’s professional standards director.

Farran was asked if he took the matter further, or took any active steps.

Farran: “I hope I referred it to (professional standards director) Michael Elliott. I think he would have got a copy of the report.”

Sharp: “Is it right that you personally did nothing to follow up this recommendation that that issue be given further consideration?”

Farran: “Well, only – other than referring it to Michael Elliott, no.”

Farran is being questioned by a lawyer for John Cleary about the then bishop’s actions in late 2012 when amendments to the professional standards ordinance were being proposed.

Farran has confirmed that the diocesan council was considering amendments with no input from the professional standards committee or anyone working on the professional standards “coalface”.

In an email John Cleary says: “There is a huge risk that the whole process appears respondent driven or certainly driven by supporters or respondents.”

Cleary went on to write: “Many would argue that the behaviour should change rather than the policy.”

Farran has strongly responded to questions put to him about what he did during this process.

Farran: “No, sorry, it’s not what I’m doing, don’t put – it was a process that was being undertaken by the Synod and the diocesan council, and I was subject to those things. I’m not – as I said before, I’m not the Pope. I can’t just do these things.”

I'm not the Pope. - Retired Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran.

Farran said while he supported what Cleary was doing and saying, and agreed with him, “I did actually feel that there were people working against the professional standards regime, and so in order to covertly protect Michael Elliott, which was a chief aim that I had to do right through the tenure that I was the bishop, I ensured that at least somebody who was less incendiary than Michael was to members … and that was Geoff Spring (chair of the professional standards committee) attended.”

Farran: “I was worried that if we had one of those flash points – and we had already had one of those flash points when the previous chancellor had resigned – that it would be totally destructive and I entirely agree that, in fact, if there was to be a weakening of the professional standards regime, especially after what I had suffered in upholding it, that, yes, the church would lose face.”

Farran has agreed that John Cleary made it absolutely clear that he was not going to follow Farran’s inclination not to defrock Graeme Lawrence.

Rumour: Newcastle Anglican diocese business manager John Cleary.

Rumour: Newcastle Anglican diocese business manager John Cleary.

Farran confirmed he told Cleary, after the email in which Cleary indicated he would not follow Farran’s direction, that he was extremely disappointed with the content of the email and the decision not to follow the direction.

Farran: “Yes, I was, because he had been my principal administrative officer, and naturally – I mean, he anticipated I would be disappointed, and I was. However, the tone of the meeting was one of mutual respect.”

Farran is now being questioned about the contents of a supplementary statement he made, after John Cleary disclosed in his statement rumours that had been reported to him by clergy “in relation to an alleged homosexual relationship at some point between yourself… and Mr Graeme Lawrence”.

Farran denied the rumour on oath, and denied that he had ever had any such relationship with Graeme Lawrence.

Farran said he “absolutely” criticised Mr Cleary in his supplementary statement, because he “found the reporting of the rumour to that effect to be scurrilous”.

Lawyer Mr Alexis, for Mr Cleary, asked Farran if he understood that Mr Cleary made the statement in response to questions by the royal commission, including whether Mr Cleary believed there might have been perceived or real conflicts of interest in relation to how the bishop had dealt with the Graeme Lawrence matter.

Solicitor Mr Williams for retired NSW local court magistrate Colin Elliott, who presided over professional standards boards hearings before resigning because of amendments to the professional standards regime.

Mr Elliott wrote to Bishop Farran on January 27, 2011 about the need for transparency in the process.

Williams: “One of the concerns that Mr Elliott expressed to you was that it created a danger of a public perception that the bishop could interfere with those determinations?”

Farran: “I thought he was saying it would not be released to public.”

Farran is now being questioned about his powers, including reserve powers.

Solicitor Ms David, for Reverend Roger Dyer, is now questioning Farran about the bishop’s actions relating to a request for priest Peter Rushton’s ashes to be interred at Wallsend parish after the priest’s death in 2007.

Farran in earlier evidence indicated he did not become aware of allegations relating to Rushton until 2010.

Ms David has put to Farran that Roger Dyer raised concerns about Rushton much earlier. In response to questions from Justice McClellan, David has told the commission that her client’s illness in 2009 was linked to his attempts to report Rushton as an offender, and the consequences that had in the community.

David has told the royal commission that Dyer was “mistreated”.

In a letter in late 2009 to Farran, Dyer wrote: “As we are all now aware, there have been serious allegations, which have affected, and are still affecting, the life and community of St Luke’s in Wallsend.”

David: “Bishop Farran, Reverend Dyer was preaching from a pulpit that was placed on an altar above the ashes of a known paedophile?”

Farran: “It wasn’t known then.”

David: “And I want to suggest to you that they were put there in late 2007 and that on an occasion that you came to the parish in early 2008 he first raised with you his concern about the fact that the ashes had been interred, having regard to the allegations that he had heard about Peter Rushton?”

Farran: “No, no, he was certainly concerned about the ashes because they had been interred there when he was away on holiday, and that was outrageous and I agree with him. They were interred by (Rev) Chris Bird.”

Farran is now giving evidence about a day he organised, in May 2010, to bring in a professional who specialised in cultural and transformational change. Farran drew attention to what he believed was a “sick and debilitating culture” within the diocese.

Farran said the day for clergy, which included Michael Elliott as a speaker, was “an attempt to deal with the secrecy element, which was quite debilitating”.

1.03pm The Royal Commission has adjourned for the lunch break.

Good morning. It’s Joanne McCarthy here, writing from the 17th floor of Governor Macquarie Tower in Sydney where the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is hearing the second stage of its inquiry into historic child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church in the Hunter.

Current Bishop Greg Thompson arrived about five minutes ago.

11.33am The hearing has resumed.

Retired Newcastle Bishop Brian Farran is in the witness box giving evidence.

He is giving evidence about events only a few months after he became bishop in 2005, when a woman -known as CKR to the commission – contacted him about her experience with the diocese after her son was sexually abused by trainee priest Ian Barrick. Barrick was eventually convicted of child sex offences.

Farran has told the commission that CKR was “fobbed off” by earlier diocese officials after she complained, that there “didn’t seem to be much empathy displayed to her” and the diocese did not follow proper processes.

Retired: Former Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran.

Retired: Former Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran.

Farran is now being questioned about professional standards action against two Newcastle priests, John Gumbley and a priest known to the commission as COJ.

Both men had action taken against them because of sexual harassment and misconduct against women.

Farran is being questioned about a restorative justice meeting held at Cooks Hill parish in 2010 where the priest COJ had been a priest.

The meeting was at the request of the women victims, but Farran has told the commission the meeting didn’t go according to plan.

Farran: “No, no it was terrible.”

Counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp: “And is it fair to say that this caused a level of disquiet in the diocese about the professional standards framework?”

Farran: “Yes. Unfortunately. I mean the professional standards framework at this stage was quite new. It was a new culture, and this really damaged it very significantly.”

Farran said there was not only disquiet about the process but “an attempt to discredit the process".

Farran commissioned respected legal professor Patrick Parkinson to review the COJ and Gumbley processes.

Parkinson said of the Gumbley investigation: “In my view, this matter was handled appropriately overall. In my experience a person who engatged in the behaviour complained of would not be allowed to remain a licensed minister in any other denomination in the Christian church.”

Parkinson was a little more critical in the COJ case, finding the investigation was “somewhat excessive”.

Parkinson: “But he also said that that comment about the excessive nature of the investigation needs to be balanced against the fact that it took COJ a long time to acknowledge some responsibility for the matter.”

Farran is now being questioned about his dealings with Newcastle man CKA, who has previously told the royal commission he was sexually abused as a child by Newcastle Anglican priest CKC in the 1970s.

CKC is now the subject of a NSW Police investigation.

Farran made a formal apology to CKA in 2010.

Farran appears to be choking up as he talks about the impact of the abuse on CKA, and the appalling diocesan response to both CKA and his mother when they sought help from the church.

Farran: “I was just horrified at how he had been treated, and particularly I was horrified by the way his mother had been treated. I had to excuse myself at one stage because I was really so upset.

Sharp: “Do you have a view about the absence of an apology for all those years?”

Farran: “I felt contaminated, that I was a bishop and this had – that this man and his family had been treated in such a terrible way.”

I felt contaminated, that I was a bishop and this had – that this man and his family had been treated in such a terrible way. - Former Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran.

Farran is now being questioned about Father Peter Rushton. It was Farran who made public the diocese’s knowledge about the late Rushton as a serious sexual abuser of children.

Rushton worshipped at the Christ Church Cathedral, at his request, after his retirement, and before his death in 2007. Farran said he had no idea Rushton was a sexual abuser until it was put to him after he became bishop.

Farran has told the commission that there was no “corporate memory” in the diocese when he became bishop in 2005, but has conceded that Dean Graeme Lawrence, who had been Dean since 1984, was “corporate memory”, and so was diocese solicitor Robert Caddies.

Farran has been asked if solicitor Keith Allen, who held various positions in the diocese over a long period, was also “corporate memory”.

Farran: “Oh, he and I didn’t see eye to eye. In fact, at my first Synod in October 2005, we had an altercation. He was the chairman of committees and he was – kept on trying to advise, you know, interrupt me, and I said: ‘Who do you think’s running this show, me or you?’ My assistant bishop at the time, Graham Rutherford, dines out on that story. So Allen really was never close to me.”

Farran is being questioned about a request to him in 2007 for Rushton’s ashes to be interred in Wallsend parish. The parish priest in charge of Wallsend, Father Roger Dyer, did not approve of the request without Farran’s consent.

Farran was asked if he had been contacted in April 2010 by Father Dyer, and told of allegations that Rushton had sexually abused children.

Farran: “I’ve looked through all the emails that Roger Dyer sent me. There’s never – there’s not one email in which he details that.”

Farran has now agreed that he was told Dyer, via an email, that Rushton was the subject of child sex allegations.

Allegations: Father Peter Rushton.

Allegations: Father Peter Rushton.

Farran said he met with four people about Rushton abuse allegations after Dyer contacted him.

Farran said he contacted former Newcastle bishops Alfred Holland, Roger Herft and Richard Appleby when he decided to make a public statement about meeting with victims of Rushton and naming him as the subject of child sex allegations.

Farran said there was a furious response to the media release, which included acknowledgement that there could have been other clergy abusers.

Sharp: “Why were they furious with you?”

Farran: “That I had defamed the dead.”

Farran is now being questioned about barrister and former diocese chancellor Paul Rosser, who was appointed by Farran in September 2009.

Rosser provided unsolicited advice to the diocese business manager John Cleary on April 27, 2010, which was to be forwarded to Farran.

Rosser indicated there were matters he found “disturbing” and he proposed to bring forward a motion at the diocesan council. Farran said it was “not appropriate” for a chancellor to do so, and it did seem he was “doing it in his own right”.

Rosser had signed off on a notice of motion, as chancellor, on May 20, 2010, in a move seen by Farran as an attempt that “really could be infringing the independence of the professional standards regime”.

Farran said he did not give his permission for the motion. Rosser’s criticisms were based on the cost and processes involved with professional standards investigations of Gumbley and COJ.

Justice Peter McClellan has just asked Farran why the matter was raised in a notice of motion to the diocesan council, rather than in a less formal way within a diocesan working group.

Farran: “There was – in the membership of the diocesan council there were people who were very close to one of the respondents (COJ), and I think that they were being driven in their criticisms of the professional standards regime by that closeness.”

Farran has just been shown an email sent by Rosser in which Rosser is “offering his opinion in fairly forceful terms about various aspects of the professional standards regime”.

This included Rosser’s statement that: “My legal advice is that any commercial relationship between Mr (Phil) Lloyd and the diocese should be terminated forthwith.”

(Mr Lloyd has acted in a “prosecutor” role for the diocese in professional standards hearings.)

Farran wrote back to Rosser saying: “As my legal adviser I think that you have a ‘reserved’ role in the diocesan council and not an activist role.”

Farran said he believed he had “a very good, warm relationship” with Rosser, but he was “very troubled by” Rosser’s “forcefulness”.

Resigned: Former Newcastle Anglican chancellor and barrister Paul Rosser.

Resigned: Former Newcastle Anglican chancellor and barrister Paul Rosser.

In September 2010 Farran became aware that Rosser, who was then the chancellor of the diocese, acted on behalf of Anglican social worker James Brown who was charged with sexually abusing multiple children.

Farran said his view was that “It was a conflict of interest and, in fact, it was really very – well, very harmful for people out in the community to see that a diocesan officer was representing a person who had been a paedophile.”

Farran: “He (Rosser) was my chancellor and the accusations against him, against Brown, had been perpetrated in Anglican settings.”

Farran spoke with Rosser on October 18, 2010 and he believed Rosser took on board the bishop’s concerns about the conflict of interest and was going to withdraw from being involved with the Brown matter.

Rosser resigned from the position of chancellor instead, on November 26, 2010 and continued to act for Brown. Farran said the Brown matter was probably not the only reason Rosser resigned.

Farran is now being questioned about sexual abuse complaints against former Dean Graeme Lawrence which were raised with him on October 8, 2009. Farran withdrew Lawrence’s permission to officiate in the diocese on that day.

In his statement to the royal commission, Farran said it was very stressful “given our very long friendship”.

On that day Farran also suspended other priests including Bruce Hoare and Graeme Sturt.

The NSW Police Force held preliminary investigations but later advised the diocese it would not take further action at that time, and the diocese was free to continue with its inquiries.

Defrocked: Former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

Defrocked: Former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

The diocese held professional standards hearings in December 2010, which recommended Lawrence, Sturt, Hoare and priest Andrew Duncan be defrocked, and Lawrence's partner, Greg Goyette, would not be able to hold a formal Anglican Church position again.

Lawrence and Sturt appealed to the NSW Supreme Court against the defrockings, but lost on April 27, 2012.

The professional standards board released its final determination and recommendations for defrocking to the media, without advising Farran, who heard about it on the radio.

Farran wrote to the professional standards board and suggested the determination and recommendations should have been made to him privately, because release to the media had placed him in “an unnecessary and unfortunate, pressured environment”.

In his evidence to the royal commission Farran compared the process to “a judge at a trial hearing of the jury’s verdict through the Daily Telegraph”.

Farran said he had “no grievance” with the idea of releasing the material to the public, after he had been advised.

Farran has told the royal commission of his concerns about taking action to inflame matters during that time, partly because of complaints against him to the Australian Anglican Church’s episcopal standards commission.

Farran said he gave the five men the opportunity to respond about what steps he should take, and whether he should defrock them.

Farran has told the royal commission he initially formed the view he should not defrock Graeme Lawrence.

He explains why: “I had been deeply affected by an interview that I had with Peter Rushton’s sister, who came to see me and Michael Elliott about the impact on her adult sons of the media release in the Newcastle Herald and how they had been, I guess – were suffering some forms of abuse in their work situations because of it. And I realised that, gosh, you know, these are young men, and the most vulnerable suicide rate in Australia is with adult young males, so I sort of stored that away and thought there are lots of secondary victims out here in all of this, and I wasn’t discounting in any way the impact upon primary victims. When I came to think about Lawrence, I realised that he had been given this extraordinary civic farewell in Newcastle, you know, the mayor had attended, the editor of the paper, the police superintendent – all sorts of people. It was extraordinary. And he had really baptised or married young couples for over 26 years. I started to think what impact would this have on them if, in fact, they felt that, you know, he hadn’t been a priest when all of those sacramental things had happened. So I thought I would permanently inhibit him but not defrock him.”

Farran said it was a subsequent meeting with the man known to the royal commission as CKH, who was the main complainant at the professional standards hearings against the five men.

I thought I would permanently inhibit him but not defrock him. - Retired Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran about Graeme Lawrence.

After a very emotional meeting with CKH he made the immediate decision to defrock Lawrence.

Farran is now being questioned about a confidential file note made by diocese business manager John Cleary, after Farran told him he was not going to follow the board’s recommendation to defrock Lawrence.

He agreed he probably told Cleary that to act on the defrocking recommendation would be “catastrophic” for the diocese.

Farran: “I think I probably did, and I think he misunderstands what I’m saying. I’m thinking whatever actions I took on the recommendations were going to be catastrophic for the diocese as they had already been. I mean, up to that point there had been extraordinary media coverage critical of me and the diocese about the professional standards processes. There had been people – that group in the cathedral had been leaking material to the Newcastle Herald, which they published. There was a whole series of articles which really, I thought, tried to undermine the professional standards process. So it was going to be – so I knew, as soon as that thing happened on 9 October, I knew my life was going to be hell because of what – of Graeme Lawrence’s reputation in the diocese of Newcastle. I knew it was going to be catastrophic and I was prepared to face it.”

I knew my life was going to be hell because of what – of Graeme Lawrence’s reputation in the diocese of Newcastle. I knew it was going to be catastrophic and I was prepared to face it. - Retired Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran.

Farran confirmed he told John Cleary that Lawrence’s networks and sphere of influence in the diocese were extremely large, and that the role of the ordinance was not to be punitive but to be protective.

Farran then spoke emotionally after confirming the next section of Cleary’s file note, in which Cleary records that Farran said he was “somewhat intimidated” by Lawrence and the two of them had lived together as curates in the Riverina diocese in the same small residence.  

Powerful: Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

Powerful: Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

Farran: “I’m really shocked that this is here, actually. I mean, this was a sort of confessional moment and I would have thought that there was some sense in which – I was really honouring John Cleary in this, because I seriously took his conscience into account and I had the highest respect for John Cleary, and I thought he had put himself at huge risk by saying to me he wouldn’t do this (Cleary indicated he had to follow the recommendation to defrock Lawrence and could not go along with anything less), and he had said that in his initial email to me, that he felt that it was the most difficult decision he had ever taken in his life and that maybe he would lose his job. I’d never thought of losing him. He was a person of great integrity and I was trying to honour his integrity by sharing myself with him. It was like a confessional. And to have that publicly… I think has been the greatest breach of friendship that I’ve ever experienced.”