The damning royal commission report on the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’s responses to child sexual abuse “makes appalling and confronting reading”, the incoming bishop says.
Newly elected church leader Peter Stuart said the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s report on the diocese “made many findings of failure – failure of leadership, failure to take action when action should have been taken”.
He apologised to victims of child sexual abuse and their families who had been “let down” and said the commission’s work had made “an incredible difference”.
“It was clear throughout the case study that children had not been kept safe and that the diocesan authorities failed to respond properly and appropriately when survivors and their advocates – including family – brought their concerns to those in authority,” he said.
“The case study report makes appalling and confronting reading.”
Bishop Stuart begins his tenure in February after Bishop Greg Thompson – who, himself, is a survivor of sexual abuse by clergy – resigned earlier this year.
Bishop Stuart said in Newcastle on Thursday that he had noticed a “resistant culture” in the diocese during the years he had worked with Bishop Thompson and his predecessor Bishop Brian Farran.
The royal commission report referred to a letter that a group of prominent Novocastrians sent to the commission in 2015, after Bishop Thompson spoke publicly about being abused as a teenager. It noted that the actions “were designed at least in part to discourage the diocese from dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse within the diocese”.
When asked whether he was discouraged by such behaviour, given the royal commission had begun its work, Bishop Stuart said the people involved had been removed from positions of responsibility in the church.
“There was clearly a pocket of deep resistance to the reforms that Bishop Thompson was seeking to put in place,” he said.
Bishop Stuart said he would read the entire 320-page report and give it detailed consideration during the coming days and implement any necessary measures by the end of the year.
He acknowledged the courage of people who had come forward to speak about their abuse and encouraged others in the community who hadn’t reported their experiences to either contact the diocese’s survivor support network or police.
“Ordinary Anglicans, along with people in the community, have felt deeply betrayed by the action and inaction that became evident in the case study and is now made plain in the report,” he said.
The bishop said the diocese was focused on facing the past and building a healthy future.