ROYAL COMMISSION: Defrocked former Anglican dean starts giving evidence

THE defrocked former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, has disputed almost all of the evidence given about him so far in a fortnight of sittings by the Royal Commission.

In a two-hour stint of evidence, he denied knowing anything about most of the child abuse cases in this hearing. He also denied an accusation that he “sexually interfered with” two male youths at a church camp in the mid-1990s. This had been raised with the bishop at the time, Roger Herft, in the closing minutes of the August block of hearings in Newcastle, when Reverend Herft denied “tipping off” Mr Lawrence about the allegation.

Mr Lawrence, who retired from the church with civic honours in 2008, only to be defrocked in disgrace in 2012, is regarded as the central figure in this inquiry and was the first person named in its terms of reference.

He was one of the clergy who allegedly abused a then-youth, code-named CKH, during the early 1980s, although he has not been charged with any criminal offence.

Taking the stand after four hours of evidence from Peter Stuart, the diocese’s Assistant Bishop since 2009, Mr Lawrence agreed with descriptions of himself as “influential” in the diocese. He agreed people been loyal to him over the years and had remained so after his defrocking.

Questioned by counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp, Mr Lawrence denied being particularly close to the three other clerics disciplined – along with Mr Lawrence and his partner, Greg Goyette – over the CKH matter. They all met in the 1970s.

Although Ms Sharp had said in her opening address that Mr Lawrence was involved in handling abuse cases – or “professional standards matters” – at the cathedral, he disputed this on Friday, saying he knew nothing of child sex abuse cases involving the diocese except for the case involving priest CKC and survivor CKA.

DEFIANT: The defrocked former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, after giving evidence at the Royal Commission in Sydney on Friday. Two final days of evidence are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Picture: Joanne McCarthy.

DEFIANT: The defrocked former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, after giving evidence at the Royal Commission in Sydney on Friday. Two final days of evidence are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Picture: Joanne McCarthy.

He was later forced to accept he knew about abuse by two other priests, Stephen Hadley Gray and Allan Kitchingman. But he said another priest was “entirely mistaken” in saying that he, Mr Lawrence, had asked this priest to write Gray a reference. He also denied giving evidence in the Kitchingman case in 2002 until the chairman of the commission, Peter McClellan, confronted him with a transcript of the case, in which the judge, the late Ralph Coolahan, had described him as speaking very highly of the offender both in and out of church.

When Mr Lawrence insisted he had no memory of that event, Justice McClellan asked him if he was telling the truth, to which he said: “Of course.” In subsequent verbal sparring on the subject, Justice McClellan asked if he had been trying to show the judge, in his support for Kitchingman, that he “knew him well” and could give “a true account of his character”?

When Mr Lawrence answered, “yes”, Justice McClellan asked him if his memory had come back. When he said “no”, the chairman asked him how he could “answer that question” (without remembering the case). Mr Lawrence said his memory had not come back but he was concerned for the priest’s wife and may have “exaggerated the true position”.

Despite other evidence describing him as part of a “gang of three” with subsequently disgraced paedophile the late Peter Rushton and a diocesan registrar, Peter Mitchell – convicted of stealing almost $200,000 from the church – Mr Lawrence said the description was “quite incorrect” and contrary to the truth.

Mr Lawrence denied – against the evidence of others – that he was on a committee that dealt with abuse cases in their so-called “yellow envelopes”. He denied being close to Rushton or knowing, in 1998, that he had been found with a cache of homosexual pornography that may have included child pornography.

When Roger Herft was bishop of Newcastle (between 1993 and 2005), Mr Lawrence said it was his expectation that Reverend Herft would handle all abuse cases and he did not expect the bishop to draw them to his attention because he tended to keep such matters to himself.

On the alleged abuse of CKA by priest CKC, Mr Lawrence insisted through sustained questioning that he had done everything possible to help in the matter.

CKC was described in the opening address as a priest who worked closely with Mr Lawrence for a decade. CKA says he told auxilliary bishop Richard Appleby about the abuse in 1984, a disclosure the cleric disputes. The commission heard yesterday that he phoned a sexual abuse hotline – answered by the then dean, in 1996 and again in 1999.

Mr Lawrence said CKA did not name the priest initially but he soon worked out who it was. Asked why he did not name CKC to Reverend Herft when he passed the details on about 18 days later, he said he had been “trying to exercise proper behaviour to a gentleman who had been named by a stranger on a telephone”. When Justice McClellan seized on this, Mr Lawrence said: “I’d forgotten he told me.”

CKC ministered elsewhere at this time, and Mr Lawrence justified his decision not to alert the bishop there, saying it was Reverend Herft’s responsibility.

The commission had previously heard that in this case, the priest CKC had two senior lay Anglican identities in his defence team, lawyers Paul Rosser and Keith Allen. Mr Lawrence confirmed that Mr Rosser had also advised him on the content of a letter to the victim, CKA, that said the church would offer as much assistance as the circumstances required.

Mr Lawrence said the offer was “heartelt”. Ms Sharp, noting Mr Lawrence’s reputation as “a compassionate man” asked whether he supported CKA during the prosecution. Mr Lawrence said he “did not” because he “was not asked”.

He denied being seen “laughing” with Mr Rosser and CKC after the case collapsed, saying it was another priest, whose name he wrote for the commission. He denied that a former Sydney archbishop, Harry Goodhew, had told him he would block him from becoming a bishop.