Newcastle Anglican diocese prepares for a Royal Commission public hearing in August

THEY were some of the most respected men in the region.

Now the culture that supported powerful Newcastle Anglican Church child sex offenders, and failed to respond to allegations of abuse, will be revealed at a public hearing of the royal commission established after a Hunter-led campaign.

On Tuesday the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse announced Case Study 42 into Newcastle Anglican diocese.

A two-week public hearing at Newcastle Courthouse from August 2 will consider how the diocese responded to allegations of child sexual abuse made against clergy and lay people including former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence, teacher Gregory Goyette, priests Andrew Duncan, Bruce Hoare, Graeme Sturt, Peter Rushton and Ian Barrack, and church worker James Michael Brown.

It will also inquire into St John’s Theological College at Morpeth, one of the Anglican Church’s most significant Australian priest training institutions, but also the subject of a warning to the church in 2009 about an apparent “significant over-representation” of child sex offenders from its ranks.

The public hearing comes two years after Newcastle diocese handed over tens of thousands of documents to the royal commission following a summons, and one year after Bishop Greg Thompson marked his 500th day as head of the church in the Hunter by issuing a formal public apology.

Some senior Anglicans had a “sense of self-entitlement” that led to sex with children “as if that was a part of the role”, while church documents revealed sexual abuse of children occurred “because a system and a culture allowed it to exist”, Bishop Thompson said.

Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson says the diocese has to deal with "the shadows in its past".

Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson says the diocese has to deal with "the shadows in its past".

The public hearing comes after a tumultuous six years in which the diocese named former bishop Ian Shevill and the late senior priests Peter Rushton and Michael Cooper as sexual abusers, and the royal commission in 2013 exposed the diocese’s failure to protect children from child sex offender priests Allan Kitchingman and Campbell Brown.

​The public hearing is expected to hear evidence that at least two former Newcastle bishops failed to protect children from church paedophiles.

In a letter in January, 1969 Bishop James Housden wished priest Allan Kitchingman “a happy and fruitful ministry” in Grafton diocese where Kitchingman was sent after he was charged with a “child sex matter” in Newcastle.

Bishop Housden also reminded Kitchingman he had to repay a car loan to the diocese.

“I am sorry to have to introduce this monetary consideration, but none of us can avoid some contact with the filthy stuff,” Bishop Housden said.

The bishop did not mention the “child sex matter”. 

Kitchingman went on to repeatedly sexually assault a 14-year-old boy at the Anglican Church’s North Coast Children’s Home in the mid 1970s. He was convicted of the offences in 2002.

In 2002 the mother of an eight-year-old girl molested by Anglican priest Robert Ellmore was scathing of a church that allowed Ellmore to train as a priest at Morpeth College in the mid 1970s, despite his first conviction for child sex offences in 1958, when he was 20, and an indecent exposure conviction in the 1960s.

“The general public would be staggered, as I have been, if they knew how vulnerable their children are in the care of the Anglican church,” the mother said during an interview in 2002.

Ellmore sexually assaulted two Hunter girls, aged 6 and 8, in 1976 while a trainee priest at Morpeth.

He was later convicted of offences against girls aged 5-12 in Sydney, Mudgee and Bathurst in the 1980s and 1990s, and jailed for nine years in 2001 after sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl while on parole after earlier offences.

At least six psychiatrists described him as a child sex offender with “an astounding level of denial”, “distorted attitudes towards women and his victims”, “significant antisocial and narcissistic personality features” and with a criminal history that displayed “persistent sexual violence”.

Ellmore, who was ordained by Bathurst diocese in 1978 and had his licence to minister removed in the early 1990s, continued to act as a priest until 2001 when he was defrocked.

The royal commission will hear evidence of decades of offending by senior Newcastle diocese priest Peter Rushton, who trained at Morpeth College from 1963 and worked at Cessnock, Wyong and Weston until he was made Rector of Wallsend from 1973-83 and held senior posts at Maitland from 1983-1998.

For a significant period Rushton held positions overseeing diocesan social work and St Alban’s Boys’ Home.

He also sat for a decade on church panels that investigated child sex abuse allegations against priests, teachers and church workers, diocese records show.

Rushton sat on the diocese’s board of investigation, similar to today’s professional standards unit, from 1987.

The royal commission is also expected to hear evidence how church youth worker James Brown was able to molest boys as young as eight for more than 20 years despite extraordinary and public displays of disturbing behaviour with boys and teenagers.

This included taking a 17-year-old on an overseas trip in 1988, taking a 16-year-old on a trip to Queensland in 1993, kissing a 14-year-old on the lips and telling him “I will win and have a relationship with you” in front of the boy’s mother, and repeated reports to adults of him giving alcohol and drugs to boys and teenagers.

In 2012 a NSW Supreme Court judge doubled Brown’s sentence to a maximum 20 years’ jail after a Crown appeal.

Over more than 20 years Brown “constantly found new victims” and only stopped after a 13-year-old reported his abuse in 1995, the court heard.

The judge accepted a psychiatrist’s assessment that Brown was “not of paedophiliac orientation” and was not driven by “uncontrollable psychosexual urges” but “engaged in his depredations of the youthful victims purely for his own gratification”.

The trial heard one of Brown’s victims was a state ward at St Alban’s Boys’ Home who was allowed to spend the school holidays with Brown in 1975.

When Brown sexually assaulted the boy, 13, he told the boy it was “Okay because me and Michael do this all the time”.

The court heard Michael was the name of a priest.