BISHOP Greg Thompson was the right man to lead Newcastle Anglican diocese after the Australian Government in November, 2012 established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
When Bishop Thompson was endorsed as the Hunter’s new Anglican head in late 2013, those who voted for him could not have known how right the appointment was.
He was the former “son of the diocese”, who grew up in the area and returned home after a church career that included work in some of the toughest parts of Australia.
He returned to Newcastle and confronted the past – both his own, and the diocese’s. He gave evidence at the shocking Newcastle Anglican Royal Commission public hearings in August and September, about being sexually abused by the late Bishop Ian Shevill. Returning to Newcastle meant confronting ugly memories.
From almost his first day on the job in early 2014 he was confronted by the diocese’s equally ugly past – of child sexual abuse over decades, the cover-ups, and the Newcastle Anglican way of doing things, where mates protected mates and people’s status and ambitions took priority over protecting children.
Bishop Thompson was the church leader whose strong stand on child sexual abuse meant he was “the bishop not welcome in his own cathedral”, who was confronted again by the depth of opposition he faced after critical letters about him were sent to Royal Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan, and Sydney Archbishop Glenn Davies.
It has taken its toll.
Changing the culture of an organisation like the Anglican diocese of Newcastle is about changing the way it sees itself.
By its crimes, cover-ups and failures on child sexual abuse, the Anglican Church, like many other churches, has shown its dark heart, and a culture that is as far away from the teachings of Christ as it is possible to be.
That is the culture Bishop Greg Thompson worked to change. It is a job that is never finished because inherent in cultural change is a requirement for constant self-assessment. The Bishop has established a strong foundation for that change to occur, and it would not have happened without him.
He confronted the past, he is entitled to rest, and he deserves a region’s unreserved thanks.