ON June 25 the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle will mark its 170th anniversary.
On that day in 1847 the church – almost certainly with high hopes for the future – established a base in the Hunter region, and became one of its most influential players.
Christchurch Cathedral’s dominance on the Newcastle skyline attests to the significance of the church in the region, and the esteem in which it has been held.
If there were plans to mark the 170th anniversary in a celebratory mood, they’ve probably been quietly shelved. The day should be marked because the Anglican Church has contributed much to the Hunter, but not with a celebration. By June the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will have published its final report into how Newcastle Anglican Diocese responded to child sex allegations.
And what we know already is that the report will be damning, and devastating.
In her final submissions to the royal commission that were released on Thursday, counsel assisting Naomi Sharp said it was open to the commission to find that a “network of perpetrators” operated in the Hunter for 30 years.
Another network of senior diocese “insiders” – Anglican Dean Graeme Lawrence, registrar Peter Mitchell, solicitor and trustee Keith Allen and chancellor Paul Rosser, QC – “worked together to frustrate efforts by other leaders, including the bishop, to deal with the sexual abuse of children by priests and others within the diocese”, Ms Sharp told the royal commission.
More damning words could hardly be said about a diocese in a church with a proud history of social welfare and comfort to the vulnerable in this country.
The treatment of Bishop Greg Thompson and former business manager John Cleary, who both resigned as a direct result of the culture of abuse that has reigned in the diocese for decades, with elements remaining in small pockets, is a disgraceful final note on a very dark period for the diocese.
The 276 pages of Ms Sharp’s submission to the royal commission is a dark day, only six months after the devastating and shocking public hearings in Newcastle.
But it should be remembered that the very darkest days for this diocese were experienced by the children who were sexually abused and had little hope. Now, at least, there is some light.