SITTING high on The Hill looking out over the city, Christ Church Cathedral has long been a dominant symbol both of Anglican piety, and of an “establishment” presence representing all that the great and the good could bring to the region.
It was a cathedral that the state’s second city could be proud of. A reassurance, in more religious times, that the industrial prosperity of Newcastle could be harnessed to erect a monumental house of worship and civic pride.
But as evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse so graphically revealed, there had been a dark side to life at Christ Church.
No lesser figure than a charismatic long-term dean of the cathedral, Graeme Lawrence, was called to account by the commission over his own sexual proclivities, and accused of being a central figure in a culture of cover-up when it came to the sexual abuse of children by a number of the diocese’s clergy. While those days are – hopefully – well and truly in the past as far as the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle is concerned, the church has a long way to go before its reputation can be expected to recover in the eyes of the general public.
To that end, the installation of the Reverend Katherine Bowyer as the 16th Dean of Newcastle is a positive step – and not just figuratively – in the rehabilitation of the diocese and its image.
As the first woman – and the first Hunter-raised worshipper – to hold the position of Newcastle dean, Reverend Bowyer has been handed some weighty responsibilities. She succeeds the Reverend Stephen Williams, who has held the role since 2013.
Reverend Bowyer appears to have had a rapid rise through the ranks, having been ordained as a deacon just 15 years ago, in 2002. Earlier this year, the Bishop Administrator of Newcastle, Dr Peter Stuart, described her as “a terrific preacher” with “immense pastoral and liturgical gifts” and someone who had already “contributed greatly to diocesan governance”.
She will need all of her gifts when the royal commission hands down its report on the diocese – which cannot be too far away – bringing the cathedral a new round of close scrutiny. Beyond that, Reverend Bowyer will need to address the big problem facing religious institutions in general: a steady decline in church attendance in an increasingly secular modern society.