Newcastle Anglican Bishop Says Child Abuse Cover-up like "Religious Protection Racket"

By Anne Connolly
ABC News
November 24, 2016

Bishop Greg Thompson says members of the Newcastle Anglican diocese acted like a Sopranos-style protection racket when it dealt with sex abuse complaints.

"What's particularly distinctive about the story of abuse in this diocese is the habituated protection of perpetrators and the undermining of survivors as they came forward. It was like a religious protection racket," Bishop Thompson told 7.30.

"You could call it like a religious Sopranos, people who pretended to be religious behaved appallingly. An organised crime against survivors."

The bishop also told how he was abused by two senior priests including former bishop Ian Shevill at an R-rated movie in the 1970s.

"The abuse was groping and touching and grooming me to see sexual assault as a normal thing, as an acceptable thing and as part of becoming a person in the church. That's how corrosive it was in that moment," he told 7.30.

In an exclusive interview with 7.30, Bishop Thompson spoke out about the intimidation and bullying he was subjected to when he started giving survivors a voice.

"People didn't like what they were hearing. 'The bishop is digging up the past, the bishop was not doing as we wanted him to do,'" Bishop Thompson said.

"I'm not one to turn a blind eye to intimidation. I think my refusal to be intimidated even made them more angry and hostile.

"There are consequences if you stand up to bullies."

He said high-profile members of the diocese had complained about him and questioned his fitness as bishop. They made complaints about him to the royal commission and the Archbishop of Sydney.

"I think, what struck me wasn't about simply their personal attack, but a culture to which even the bishop is subject to such harassment told me that here was an environment where vulnerable If they could do it to a bishop, they could do it to people who wanted to speak about crimes against children," he said.

'I can look after you if you have a relationship with me'

PHOTO: Bishop Thompson initially thought he was the only victim of abuse. (ABC News)

In 1976 Greg Thompson was a teenager considering a future in the church. He was honoured when Bishop Shevill and another senior priest invited him to the movies. The film turned out to be an R-rated picture about slavery and sexual assault.

As he sat between the two men both abused him.

Later that night at the presbytery the abuse got worse.

PHOTO: Father Peter Rushton died in 2007 without ever being convicted.

"I was plied with alcohol, I was involved in discussions about my future and then the kiss, the grope, the clear introduction to a sexual relationship and then the discussion when I didn't want that sexual relationship to say, well look, 'You know, you want to be a priest here's an opportunity, I can look after you. You can go to college with my support if you have a relationship with me.'"

Bishop Thompson told no one about the assaults, thinking he was the only victim. He was not.

For three decades, a network of paedophile priests operated with impunity in the Newcastle Anglican diocese. They found their victims by infiltrating an orphanage, youth groups and boys camps.

In July for the first time, survivors told their stories to 7.30, naming father Peter Rushton as the lynchpin in a paedophile network.

'The arrogance of people that diminish survivors'

After years working in the Northern Territory, Greg Thompson returned to lead the diocese where he had been abused as a young man. He met with dozens of survivors, determined to uncover the truth.

On Thursday, Bishop Thompson finally had his chance to tell the royal commission his story.

"Mostly I'm OK, but there are moments when hearing a story of a survivor's own journey triggers my own feelings," he told 7.30.

"But also what triggers me is the indifference, the disbelief, the arrogance of people that diminish survivors, discount their story, and turn away from them; that triggers deep anger."








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