Royal Commission: Assistant Newcastle Bishop Confirms Three New Child Sex Abuse Allegations against Clergy

By Ian Kirkwood
Newcastle Herald
November 18, 2016

The Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart, has told the commission of three more allegations of child sexual abuse against Anglican clergy.

Bishop Stuart, the assistant at Newcastle since 2009, made the disclosure at the end of a session of almost two hours in the witness stand on Friday morning.

Counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp, had just taken Bishop Stuart through a section of evidence in which he had described supporters of Graeme Lawrence in Christ Church Cathedral as the most “difficult, intractable and hurtful” group of people he had ever met.

Bishop Stuart then explained how the cathedral’s parish council was sacked after prominent lay members of the congregation wrote to their now infamous letter to the commission in September, complaining about Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson.

Having explained to Ms Sharp that the diocese had also improved its victims’ redress scheme to closely model the proposal put forward by the commission, Bishop Stuart was then asked whether any more cases had emerged in 2016.

He was asked to write the names of the clergy on a piece of paper, and was doing so when the chairman of the inquiry, Peter McClellan, adjourned for the morning break.

Bishop Stuart said three disclosures had been made. It is understood that one of the named clergy is deceased.

Earlier, Bishop Stuart had told the inquiry that the first he knew of the “yellow envelopes” of child sex abuse and other misconduct cases was when senior lay figure and soclitor Keith Allen “downloaded on” him in a meeting in early 2013.

Although he had been at the diocese since 2009 Bishop Stuart said he had no idea that the envelopes existed before then. He said he immediately went to the director of professional standards, Michael Elliott, and in turn “downloaded on him”, telling him what Mr Allen had told him.

He said Mr Allen had told him that deceased priest Peter Rushton had another cleric, James Brown, had had “an association”.

He was shown Mr Elliott’s file note of their meeting, which said Mr Allen had told him there were 27 brown envelopes.

He said he was deeply concerned about the profound information that Mr Allen had passed on to him.

Working with Mr Elliott and the diocesan business manager John Cleary, they wrote to Mr Allen asking him to hand over any files he may have had.

Earlier, Bishop Stuart was asked about the way the Newcastle Anglican diocese dealt with complaints against clergy through its professional standards framework.

He was asked about various cases dealt with in his time, including the defrocking of Graeme Lawrence and a Terrigal priest, John Gumbley, and the disciplining of a third cleric, code-named COJ.

Both Mr Gumbley and COJ had action taken against them over complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct against women.

Bishop Stuart confirmed there had been some in the diocese who believed the professional standards process lacked fairness, with an example being the way investigators had used computer file diaries belonging to Mr Gumbley in their action against him.

He acknowledged that there had been a series of amendments to the diocese’s professional standards framework but he disagreed with a suggestion from counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp, that the regular reviews of the system could have led people to believe that it lacked credibility.

Bishop Stuart said the church and the community needed to have confidence in the professional standards framework and while there were a series of reviews the church had a complicated disciplinary process of which professional standards were only a part.

In evidence on Thursday, former bishop Brian Farran said he believed a body needed to be set up outside the church to deal the disciplining of clergy.

Mr Farran said the morality of the church had been compromised and to restore it required “absolute integrity and it needs to be moved out of the church altogether”.

Asked by Mr McClellan what he had in mind, Mr Farran suggested some sort of statutory independent body, perhaps under state government powers, with the jurisdiction to investigate matters and to decide on any subsequent disciplinary outcomes.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.