Lack of evidence puts
investigation on hold
IAN Wotton Allnutt Shevill was the ‘‘boy bishop’’ – a colourful Anglican Bishop of Newcastle in the 1970s who was known as ‘‘charming’’ by some, a ‘‘show-off’’ by others, and with a reputation that women ‘‘melted at his feet’’.
But as Hunter Anglicans come to terms with news this week of major police and royal commission investigations into the diocese’s past, a North Queensland bishop has confirmed compensation was paid after an allegation Bishop Shevill sexually abused a child.
‘‘I would certainly be in favour of an investigation in regard to Bishop Shevill’s time in the [Newcastle] diocese,’’ North Queensland Bishop Bill Ray said yesterday, after Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson confirmed the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was investigating the diocese back to 1953.
‘‘I’ve heard comments from time to time that cause me concern, but no one will come forward with an allegation you can work with,’’ Bishop Ray said.
He was concerned that the late Bishop Shevill’s reputation as a much loved and highly regarded, although sometimes controversial, bishop might have convinced people there was no point raising allegations with the church or authorities in the past.
‘‘I would urge people to come forward now,’’ he said.
The Anglican Church paid compensation to a woman four years ago after allegations of sexual abuse as a teenager more than four decades ago.
Bishop Ray said he had apologised to the woman, and accompanied her to the school where she alleged Bishop Shevill had sexually abused her.
Bishop Ray was aware of other troubling suggestions about Bishop Shevill’s conduct with young men considering the priesthood, but stressed that despite appeals for people to report allegations to the diocese, there had only been one formal complaint against the bishop.
‘‘I would certainly be in favour of an investigation because I think it is a matter that is unclear,’’ he said.
‘‘It deeply concerns me that there’s a suggestion anyone used the church to establish abusive relationships.’’
In 1989 respected Australian religion writer Alan Gill described Bishop Shevill as ‘‘one of those celebrities who pretended to be pained by controversy while secretly enjoying it’’.
Bishop Shevill first hit the headlines in 1953 when he became Bishop of North Queensland at age 34. He earned the nickname of ‘‘the boy bishop’’ for being the world’s youngest Anglican bishop.
Gill said Bishop Shevill’s time as Newcastle Bishop, from 1973 to 1977, was notable for its successes and ‘‘numerous controversies over his alleged headstrong manner and authoritarian style’’.
He left Newcastle after suffering a stroke.
Bishop Ray said he found it ‘‘extremely distressing’’ that people in authority in churches had misused the trust between churches and communities.
‘‘I find it abhorrent and distressing.’’
The many years between offences occurring and allegations being raised was also a deeply concerning sign of people’s lack of trust in churches.
Do you know more? Send reports to Newcastle Anglican director of professional standards Michael Elliott 1800774945