Royal Commission's case study finds 'systemic issues' allowed perpetrators to operate for at least 30 years

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that “systemic issues” allowed a group of perpetrators to operate within the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle for at least 30 years.

A redacted version of the report into the investigation of the diocoese was published on Thursday afternoon.

It followed a public hearing held in August 2016 in Newcastle and in November 2016 in Sydney.

The hearing inquired into the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and lay people involved in or associated with the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.

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The report found Newcastle diocese Bishops Alfred Holland and Roger Herft showed a distinct lack of leadership, and alleged perpetrators were not called to account.

It found there was a “do nothing” approach in the diocese in response to child sexual abuse allegations during Bishop Holland’s episcopate between 1978 and 1992.

The failure of Bishop Holland to act in the face of allegations made to him represented a lost opportunity to prevent further abuse being perpetrated by Father Peter Rushton and Father James Brown, the report found.

Father Rushton died in 2007 and was never charged with any child sexual abuse offences, although the diocese acknowledges that he was a child sex offender. In 2011 Father Brown pleaded guilty to 27 charges of child sexual abuse relating to 19 male victims and was convicted and sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in jail.

Bishop Herft’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse was weak and ineffectual and showed no regard for the need to protect children during his episcopate from 1993 to 2005, the report found. The way in which the diocese handled allegations of child sexual abuse shows there was a large gap between the diocese’s policies and its practices.

Commissioners found that where an alleged perpetrator had moved to another diocese, that diocese was generally not warned of the allegations. Bishop Herft’s inaction with respect to Father Rushton contributed to the systematic failure of the diocese to make perpetrators accountable for their conduct. Compassion and pastoral care was often not shown to survivors under the leadership of these two bishops, the report found.

However, in exposing the allegations, later Newcastle Bishops Brian Farran and Gregory Thompson, took appropriate responses against alleged perpetrators and provided survivors with pastoral care. They faced a considerable backlash over their actions.

The report found the diocese did not address conflicts of interest. There was a lack of awareness of, or policies on, avoiding conflicts of interest in responding to child sexual abuse matters. The report found that conflicts of interests often involved lawyers who held positions in the diocese and acted as legal representatives for those charged with child sex offences.

When Father George Parker was charged in 2000 with child sexual abuse, a member of the diocesan and friend of Father Parker, Keith Allen acted as his solicitor. Mr Allen then retained Paul Rosser QC as Father Parker’s barrister. Mr Rosser was at the time also the diocesan deputy chancellor.

Mr Rosser QC accepted instructions to appear for Father Parker at the criminal prosecution for offences against survivor CKA and his brother. Despite Mr Rosser QC’s submission to the contrary,  the Commissioners found there was clear conflict of interest between his duty to the diocese and his duty to his client, Father Parker.

In his capacity as deputy chancellor, Mr Rosser was involved in sending a message to CKA that the diocese would help him. In his capacity as Father Parker’s legal representative, he was involved in undermining CKA’s allegations.

The report also finds that Mr Allen did not consider whether it was appropriate to act for Father Parker in a criminal prosecution given the various governance roles he held in the diocese at the time.

The cumulative effect of a number of systemic issues allowed a group of perpetrators to operate within the diocese for at least 30 years.

The report found that systemic issues included a focus on protecting the reputation of the Church and its powerful and influential member. Abusive and predatory sexual relationships were misrepresented as consensual homosexual relationships.

Before 2007 those who reported allegations of child sexual abuse to senior clergy were treated as if they had fabricated the allegations and were sometimes threatened with legal action. Father Peter Rushton often threatened alleged victims or their families with legal action after hearing allegations of child sexual abuse made against him.

There was a lack of turnover of positions of governance leading to entrenched positions, conflicts of interest and a narrowed pool of expertise. There was a permissive and timid leadership by successive bishops.

The report found that allegations of child sexual abuse were not consistently or regularly reported to police and recordkeeping about complaints was inadequate. There was also a practise of minimising the nature and impact of the offending and an over-reliance on the perceived honesty of alleged perpetrators when confronted with allegations.

The Herald