FORMER Newcastle Bishop Alfred Holland has repeatedly denied being told of allegations of child sexual abuse against any priest during his time in Newcastle.
Giving evidence by video link from Sydney, Bishop Holland said he had no idea that Father Peter Rushton or any other priest had been abusing boys.
He told Commissioner Peter McClellan that he now accepted that Rushton and others had been serial paedophiles but he insisted that was only because it had been published in the media.
He disputed earlier evidence from a lay church member, Suzan Aslin, that she had told him of Rushton’s abuse of another priest’s son, who had been discovered curled in a ball on his bed after Rushton had assaulted him at the age of four or five.
Asked by counsel assisting Naomi Sharp if there was a framework for reporting priest misconduct at that time, Bishop Holland said: “There was no structure to deal with that”.
Asked if there was a complaint against a priest it would be dealt with ad hoc, he said: “That would be right”.
Bishop Holland agreed with Commissioner McClellan that he had the ultimate responsibility to ensure the priests he licensed were acting in the proper way.
“I knew nothing about allegations made about Rushton,”
Ms Sharp asked Bishop Holland if he would have expected to be told if one priest had sexually assaulted another priest’s child.
“Well, in theory I would have thought he would have come to me at once and told me,” Bishop Holland said.
“We have evidence he did come to you and make this disclosure to you,” Ms Sharp said.
“I absolutely deny any disclosure was ever made to me.”
On lay preacher James Michael Brown, who was the subject of evidence on the opening day as a paedophile who worked in concert with Rushton, Bishop Holland acknowledged that the “might have” signed the paperwork to license Brown as a lay reader without knowing him or making inquiries about him.
Bishop Holland also denied that a leading Synod member at the time, Professor David Frost, had told him about Brown and Rushton fostering boys from St Alban’s.
“I am suggesting to you that you telephoned Suzan Aslin and discussed with her her concerns about Rushton and Brown fostering boys from St Alban’s,” Ms Sharp said.
“I deny that it happened,” Bishop Holland.
Ms Sharp: “Well, I suggest to you that it did, and you are not telling the truth to the commission?
I’m very sorry, you’re wrong. I am telling the truth.”
Wednesday’s second day began with evidence from Pamela Wilson, who moved to Wallsend in 1973 and came to know Rushton through her work as a scripture teacher, school teacher and pastoral care trainer.
She said she initially thought Rushton was a “a good man”, with “a good aura”, until an incident involving the son of an assistant priest in the parish.
In the early 1980s they told her how Rushton had abused their son, who was four or five years old at the time.
Ms Wilson said she had decided to write to Bishop Holland to tell him what had happened and that Rushton phoned her to threaten her not to.
She said Rushton said: “I want you to destroy it immediately, because if you don’t you’ll get a solicitor’s letter sent to you quicker than you can turn around.”
“I hung up the phone and was thinking to myself: “Well, evil rides around the church. The wihspers I had heard were really true.”
The hearing continues.