Newcastle Anglican diocese had 'do nothing' approach to child abuse: royal commission

Report says leaders’ failures allowed paedophiles to harm children for at least 30 years within the diocese

The Guardian, UK/December 7, 2017

By Melissa Davey

Paedophiles were allowed to harm children for at least 30 years within the Anglican diocese of Newcastle because of a series of failures by leaders, who had a “do nothing” approach to reports of abuse, a report from the child sexual abuse royal commission has found.

The commission has been releasing a series of incremental reports about abuse in various institutions in the lead-up to their final report being delivered to the governor general on 15 December. On Thursday the commission published its findings on its investigation into historical child sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and lay people involved with the Anglican diocese of Newcastle.

The report found Newcastle diocese bishops Alfred Holland and Roger Herft lacked leadership and failed to report perpetrators to police or hold them to account. When abuse was reported to them and other members of the clergy they minimised the impact of the offending, showed reluctance to take action against offenders and had a focus on protecting the reputation of the church and protecting positions of power and influence.

“A cumulative effect of each of these systemic issues was that a group of perpetrators was allowed to operate within the diocese for at least 30 years,” the report found.

Holland’s failure to act after allegations were made to him about the offending of two priests, Father Peter Rushton and James Brown, meant opportunities were lost to intervene and prevent offending against other children, the report found.

The commission found Herft’s response to allegations was “weak and ineffectual and showed no regard for the need to protect children from the risk that they could be preyed upon. It was a failure of leadership.”

Rushton died in 2007 and was never charged, though the diocese has since acknowledged that he was a child sex offender. In 2011 Brown pleaded guilty to 27 charges of child sexual abuse relating to 19 male victims and was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

No disciplinary process was pursued against any member of the clergy and alleged perpetrators were often simply moved to another diocese once allegations were raised, the report found. “The diocese was generally not warned of the allegations,” the report found. “Survivors were not offered timely or compassionate pastoral care and support.”

The commission’s report also identified conflicts of interest within the historic leadership of the church, with lawyers who held positions in the diocese also acting as legal representatives for those charged with child sex offences. It meant the stories of victims were undermined, the report said.

The head of the Anglican church in Australia, Melbourne archbishop Philip Freier, responded to the report by saying the church accepted the commission’s findings.

“We are grateful for its work in identifying weaknesses and areas for improvement,” he said. “I apologise again on behalf of the Anglican church to survivors, their families and other people affected by the criminal offences and our failure to react properly.

“The Anglican church of Australia has taken strong actions to improve our protocols, procedures, checks and responses to complaints, many of these in response to royal commission recommendations. We continue to strive to ensure that the church is a safe place for all and especially for children.”

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