Royal commission on child sex abuse moves focus to Anglicans

CONCERNED: Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson  on Tuesday.
 Picture: Jonathan Carroll
CONCERNED: Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson on Tuesday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

NEWCASTLE Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson has urged the federal government to fully fund the royal commission into child sexual abuse as the diocese faces a major police investigation and a royal commission investigation back to the 1950s.

In an extraordinary interview on Tuesday the bishop confirmed the Anglican Church had already paid compensation to sexual abuse victims of a late former Newcastle bishop for offences against children in another state.

It was ‘‘more than likely’’ there were serial perpetrators in the Hunter Region’s past who were ‘‘aware of one another’’, and ‘‘people of significant influence’’ in the Church had failed to respond to child sexual abuse allegations when they were made, he said.

The diocese provided tens of thousands of documents to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in July in response to a summons issued within months of Bishop Thompson taking up his position in February.

The correspondence of every Newcastle Anglican bishop back to 1953 had been handed to the royal commission, which is also investigating St John’s theological college at Morpeth, and St Alban’s children’s home at Cessnock.

‘‘It doesn’t surprise me that the royal commission is investigating the diocese, but the comprehensive nature of the summons was surprising,’’ Bishop Thompson said.

Confirmation of the royal commission investigation came as Newcastle Local Area Commander Superintendent John Gralton confirmed Strike Force Arinya-2 will investigate historic child sexual abuse allegations involving Newcastle Anglican diocese.

The investigations will include the diocese’s handling of allegations.

A Hunter man who has argued the need for a major police investigation of historic child sex allegations involving Newcastle Anglican clergy since his court case against a former Newcastle priest ended suddenly in 2001, said he was unaware of the police strike force.

‘‘I’m pleased that it’s all being looked at, that these things are being taken seriously and looked at,’’ he said.

Bishop Thompson said the royal commission had been ‘‘extraordinarily able’’ to assist those who had suffered abuse and it was vital it was fully funded by the federal government.

‘‘I think we need to ensure the royal commission, given its serious public responsibility, needs to be resourced to see its important work through,’’ he said.

‘‘The federal government ought to find the resources to ensure the stories of abuse are not repeated.’’

Bishop Thompson said he struggled to understand how church leaders in the past had failed to respond when people reported allegations against church representatives.

‘‘I can only say how courageous people are in being prepared to report their abuse.

‘‘The question in my mind is why, when it came to the attention of both bishops and senior clergy, that a priest was abusing children, why they didn’t respond to ensure this priest did not continue. That’s the question I ask.

‘‘Why do we diminish the victims by not attending to the pain they’re feeling? What is the fear? That we’ll be seen as a church with frailties?’’

Bishop Thompson, who grew up in the Hunter, said cultures within organisations including churches meant adults turned a blind eye towards child sexual abuse.

‘‘It was a part of our upbringing that this was private and not to be discussed. When matters were raised they were mishandled. Victims were not listened to.

‘‘I think this [the royal commission into child sexual abuse] is shaking the tree of society, and what we expect of people in leadership positions.’’

Bishop Thompson said he would like to see Newcastle declare it was a ‘‘child-safe’’ city, with a formal statement from leaders similar to an initiative in Bendigo.

He said documents supplied to the royal commission showed diocese leaders had known child sexual abuse was a crime.

‘‘That’s something we can’t minimise. Where we minimise that offending we do harm to our victims and harm to our standing as people who have something to say for the common good.

‘‘Where children are abused there is a profound breach of trust. The common good is not served by hiding these matters.’’ 

■BISHOP Greg Thompson has urged people who have experienced sexual abuse to contact Newcastle police Strike Force Arinya-2, in a pastoral letter to be read to parishioners this weekend. ‘‘I know that many of you will be shocked and surprised by the continued and necessary public scrutiny of the diocese,’’ the bishop said.

People requiring support to go to police, or counselling or other support from the diocese, can contact director of professional standards and former police officer Michael Elliott on 1800774945.