Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the Newcastle Anglican diocese day 14 | live blog

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Justice Peter McClellan.
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Justice Peter McClellan.

3.59pm The Royal Commission has adjourned and will resume on Wednesday next week, with Graeme Lawrence still giving evidence.

Here’s a wrap of Day 14: 

2.07pm The Royal Commission has resumed after lunch. Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence is giving evidence.

Lawrence is giving evidence that he studied at St John’s Theological College at Morpeth from 1963 to 1965.

While he was there other students included Peter Rushton, Allan Kitchingman and Brian Farran.

Lawrence was ordained a priest in the diocese of Riverina in 1966. He was archdeacon at Riverina from 1978 to 1984. He agreed that was a position of considerable leadership within the diocese.

He became Dean of Newcastle in June 1984.

He was also commissary in the diocese, which meant he acted in the place of the bishop when the bishop was not there.

He agreed that many in the cathedral congregation were extremely loyal to him during his time there, and later.

He worked in the diocese of Wangaratta from March to October 2009. He was member of the General Synod of the Anglican Church from 1978 to 2008. He was also involved in a sub-committee responsible for the introduction of the church’s professional standards model ordinance.

Lawrence is being asked about his friendship with former Bishop Brian Farran, which developed when the two lived in a house together for about a year.

During Lawrence’s time in the Riverina he formed a relationship with his future partner Gregory Goyette, who came to live with Lawrence in the rectory of St Albans in 1975.

Defrocked former Anglican priest Bruce Hoare was a curate at St Albans between 1973 and 1977.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp: “Did you understand at that time that he (Hoare) was a homosexual?”

Lawrence: “I did.”

Graeme Sturt was also at St Albans from 1977 to 1980. Lawrence said he came to know Sturt was a homosexual.

Defrocked former Anglican priest Andrew Duncan came to St Albans in 1979 and stayed until 1981. Lawrence denied knowing that Duncan was a homosexual.

Lawrence denied sponsoring Bruce Hoare to transfer to Newcastle.

Sharp is now questioning Lawrence about Peter Rushton.

Sharp: “During the time you were the Dean of the cathedral, that is, up until 2008, did you have any awareness whatsoever of allegations that he had sexually offended against children?”

Lawrence: “None whatsoever.”

Lawrence said the former Bishop of Newcastle Roger Herft did not raise allegations involving Peter Rushton with him. He said there would have been no reason for Herft to raise such allegations with him, despite his senior position.

Silent: Former Bishop of Newcastle Roger Herft.

Silent: Former Bishop of Newcastle Roger Herft.

Lawrence has denied evidence by archdeacon Colvin Ford that Peter Rushton, former registrar Peter Mitchell and himself (Lawrence) were a gang of three who worked together.

Lawrence: “Totally incorrect.”

Sharp: “And what is your response to the suggestion that you worked in league with one another?”

Lawrence: “We did not work in league with one another.”

Lawrence has denied having “any involvement whatsoever in handling, dealing with or otherwise liaising about allegaations that members of the clergy had sexually abused children”.

He denied being part of a committee, including Bishop Herft, that reviewed allegations of abuse.

He said it was his expectation that the bishop would handle those matters.

Sharp: “Is it your evidence that while you were the Dean of Newcastle you never became aware that members of the Newcastle Diocese clergy had been accused of child sexual assault?”

Lawrence: “I have never...” with the exception of a matter involving complaints by a man known to the royal commission as CKA.

A few questions later Lawrence revised that answer, when asked about a priest named Stephen Hatley Gray who was convicted of raping a 15-year-old boy.

Lawrence: “I’d quite forgotten about him.”

Sharp has told the royal commission that a priest has come forward to say Lawrence contacted him about the Gray matter, and asked the priest to write a stronger reference for Gray than he was prepared to give.

Lawrence: “I absolutely did not do that at any time.”

Lawrence is now being questioned about his knowledge of charges against priest Allan Kitchingman.

He said he only knew about the case from the media. He said he might have written a reference for Kitchingman but denied giving oral evidence in court.

Lawrence was shown the transcript of the court case in August 2002 where Judge Ralph Coolahan refers to Dean Lawrence’s evidence.

Coolahan said at the time: “In short, Dean Lawrence spoke very highly of the offender and his work, both within and without the church.”

Sharp: “You’re not left in any doubt that you did give oral evidence in this matter?”

Lawrence: “No no. Obviously I did. I have no recollection whatever of doing that.”

Justice McClellan is now questioning Lawrence about whether he gave true evidence in the sentencing of Kitchingman, and whether he had ever given evidence in a court.

Judge Coolahan noted in his sentencing: “The Dean said that because he thought so highly of the offender, and notwithstanding recent adverse publicity about clergymen giving evidence in support of other clergy… he wanted to be here for the offender.”

McClellan has asked about Coolahan noting that Lawrence said he had known Kitchingman and his wife for close to 40 years.

Lawrence said Kitchingman’s wife was a close personal friend of mine.

I may have exaggerated the true position.

Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

After a few questions Lawrence agreed with the proposition that he didn’t tell the judge the true position, but “not intentionally”.

McClellan: “But do you accept you didn’t tell the judge the true position?”

Lawrence: “I may have exaggerated the true position.”

McClellan: Why would you do that?”

Lawrence: “For the same reason. Out of concern for his wife.”

Lawrence has confirmed that he also might have written a reference for convicted child sex offender trainee priest Ian Barrick.

Lawrence denied supporting the priest CKC during his prosection in 2001 for child sex offences.

Sharp: “Is it right or is it wrong that you were a go-to person in the diocese for priests who were accused of child sexual abuse?”

Lawrence: “That is wrong.”

Sharp is now questioning Lawrence about a phone call made by a man known to the royal commission as CKA, who made child sex allegations against priest CKC. CKA made subsequent calls as well.

Lawrence denied seeing a file  about sexual abuse matters, despite his note headed “report for the sexual harassment file”. He knew the file existed.

Lawrence said CKA did not give him the name of the priest he alleged had sexually abused him as a child in the 1970s.

Sharp: “Did you take any steps to ascertain whether this priest was still working within the Diocese of Newcastle?”

Lawrence: “No, I had no idea who it was.”

Lawrence said he did not ask who the priest was.

Lawrence was asked what steps he took to follow up the matter.

He said CKA came to see him and Bishop Herft. He agreed that meeting occurred in 1996, although the original contact was made years earlier.

Sharp is now asking Lawrence about a letter signed by Lawrence to Herft, reporting the phone call in which CKA alleged sexual abuse by one of “our clergy”.

Sharp has read some of the letter… “A man who claimed he wished to talk about an incident of sexual abuse, which he said had happened to him and another boy in the – now, there’s a redaction here, but in fact the parish is identified”.

Sharp: “Given that you were told what parish it was, it was readily open to you to check who that priest was at the time, was it not?”

Lawrence: “Correct.”

Sharp: “So within a matter of days after this conversation in April 1996 you knew who the allegation related to?”

Lawrence: “I did.”

Sharp: “And did you assume that it was CKC?”

Lawrence: “I guessed it was, but I had no way of confirming that suspicion.”

Lawrence said CKC had been to two or three other parishes.

Lawrence did not name CKC in the letter to the bishop.

Sharp: “Was there some reason why you did not name CKC in this letter to the bishop?”

Lawrence: “I think I was trying to exercise proper – proper behaviour in regard to the gentleman who’d been named by a stranger on a telephone.”

McClellan has just stepped in and put to Lawrence that he just gave evidence that the priest was named by CKA.

McClellan: “So he did tell you who it was?”

Lawrence: “Yes.”

McClellan: “You told me that you surmised it. Now you tell me that he told you who it was.”

Lawrence: “Well that’s in the letter. I obviously did. I’d forgotten he’d told me.”

Sharp has now asked Lawrence if he thought it might have been necessary to follow up on risk management in relation to CKC still acting as a priest in another diocese.

Lawrence: “I had passed on the information to the bishop and it was his responsibility to do any follow-up, especially for the bishop of another diocese.”

Sharp is making a quick detour from the CKA matter after noting a document written by Bishop Herft about Ian Barrick, who went on to be convicted of child sex offences.

Sharp: “May we take it you had a close relationship with Ian Barrick at that time?”

Lawrence: “No. he was one of my parishioners and the support I gave him was the support I would have given to any parishioner who believed that he had a vocation to the priesthood.”

Lawrence is now being questioned about a file note he prepared in 12 January, 1999 after receiving a phone call from CKA.

In the second paragraph Lawrence noted the priest’s name, CKC.

Sharp: “He not only alleged that CKC had sexually interfered with him but he told you that he had sexually interfered with other boys.”

Lawrence: “That’s correct.”

Sharp: “He told you that his mother had brought the matter to the attention of Bishop Shevill?”

Lawrence: “Yes.”

Sharp: “And he also told you that he had spoken to Bishop Appleby about it?”

Lawrence: “He told me that.”

Sharp: “He also told you that the matter had been swept under the carpet?”

Lawrence: “That was how he felt.”

Sharp: “It must have been a concern to you that he was saying not only was he sexually abused by this priest, but other boys were too?”

Lawrence: “Yes.”

After CKA threatened to go to the police or the Newcastle Herald with the information, Lawrence recorded that he told CKA he had every right to do that.

Lawrence noted that CKA asked if he was a friend of CKC’s, and he said he knew CKC but was not a close friend of his.

Lawrence said he later spoke to Bishop Herft about the matter and passed his file note to the bishop.

Sharp: “Could it be that Bishop Herft did not meet with CKA until after the court proceedings against CKA?”

Lawrence: “My memory is it was prior, but I’m not certain about that.”

Lawrence is now being shown a file note prepared by Herft, that includes advice by barrister and deputy chancellor of the diocese, Paul Rosser.

It includes that Rosser said the matter needed to be “firmed up by the Dean writing to CKA outlining his options”. It also records that Rosser was to meet with Lawrence.

Lawrence said he had no memory of any meeting with Rosser.

A letter written by Lawrence to Herft shows that Lawrence wrote a letter to CKA “for the sexual harassment file” and the letter had been “approved” by Rosser.

Lawrence referred again, in his letter to CKA, that CKA had “expressed the fear that in some way the church would want to sweep the complaint under the carpet”.

In the letter he writes “I assure you that neither the church in general nor the diocese of Newcastle … has any wish or intention to do as you fear”.

Lawrence acknowledged CKA’s right to report the matter to police.

Lawrence said he took no steps to contact the diocese where CKC was still a priest, to let that diocese’s bishop know the priest was subject to allegations he had sexually abused more than one boy.

Lawrence said Rosser gave advice on the letter. He denied knowing that Rosser acted for CKC in the prosecution of the priest.

Lawrence said it was “clearly not appropriate”.

Lawrence said he did know that Keith Allen, a solicitor and trustee for the diocese, also acted for CKC.

Sharp: “Were you aware that the Crimeds Act made it an offence to fail to disclose information relating to a serious indictable offence to the authorities?”

Lawrence: “Yes.”

Sharp: “Did it occur to you that this was a matter that the diocese needed to disclose to the police?”

Lawrence: “Yes.”

Sharp: “And when that occurred to you, what action did you take?”

Lawrence: “I didn’t take any particular action. I left it to the diocesan bishop and the registrar to do those matters which were in their purview, not in mine.”

Asked whether he had discussions with Keith Allen during the case, Lawrence said “No I did not.”

He also denied having discussions with Paul Rosser and Bishop Herft.

McClellan: “Did you believe CKA when he told you what he said happened to him?”

Lawrence: “I believed him, sir, but I was anxious about his emotional and psychological state.”

McClellan: “Did you believe what he was saying to you was true?”

Lawrence: “I believed that he believed it was true.”

McClellan: “What about you?”

Lawrence: “At that stage, I was not sure.”

McClellan: “When was that that you became sure?”

Lawrence: “I think during the course of the trial.”

After a series of questions of answers, Naomi Sharp asked Lawrence how he obtained information that caused him to conclude, during the trial, that the allegations were true?

Lawrence: “It’s called gossip.”

Sharp: “Did those gossips tell you that Paul Rosser was acting for...”

Lawrence: “No they didn’t, strangely enough.”

Sharp: “So all of these gossipy people didn't tell you that the deputy chancellor of the diocese was acting for the priest?”

Lawrence: “No, ma’am.”

Lawrence has denied being at the court at the end of CKC’s trial, as CKA alleged, or of laughing with Paul Rosser.

Lawrence: “I know the person who was there, but it was not me.”

Lawrence has put in writing the name of the person, a priest.

Sharp: “There has been a suggestion that the DPP contacted the deanery in search of informaiton and was provided with no assistance by the deanery. Are you aware that the DPP did contact the deanery?

Lawrence: “I am aware that they rang my secretary under the misapprehension that the dean’s office contained the files of the diocese. They spoke to my secretary. There is a letter in the bundle, a comment in the bundle, from that good woman. She was not able to answer the question they wished to have answered and directed them to the registry.”

Are you getting irritated with me, Mr Lawrence?

Counsel assisting the royal commission, Naomi Sharp.

The royal commission has evidence that Lawrence kept some files on his personal file at the deanery. He said the secretary did not have the right to pass on the information. He was made aware of the call on the same day. He has just denied knowing the call was from the DPP, although a few answers earlier he said he had known it was the DPP.

No, I’m not getting irritated with you. Far from it.

Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

During the questioning Sharp asked: “Are you getting irritated with me, Mr Lawrence.”

Lawrence: “No, I’m not getting irritated with you. Far from it.”

It has now been clarified that it was a detective from Port Macquarie Police Station who contacted the Dean, and spoke to his secretary saying he wanted to speak to the Dean about a sexual abuse case. His secretary gave the detective the wrong information after the detective asked if there was anyone in the diocese with CKC’s name.

Although the secretary’s note says she asked for the detective’s name and phone number, “it was not given to her”, Lawrence said.

Sharp: “A policeman wouldn’t give your secretary his name and phone number so he could be called back?”

Lawrence: “This is what she told me happened, and I believe that.”

Lawrence said he did not phone Port Macquarie police and offer his assistance, because he doubted that it was a detective.

Sharp: “Were you adopting an obstructive approach?”

Lawrence: “Most certainly not.”

Sharp: “Were you running away and hiding from the matters which had been raised?”

Lawrence: “Most certainly not.”

Sharp is now questioning Lawrence about sexual abuse allegations against him.

Did Bishop Herft, while he was the bishop of Newcastle, ever raise with you allegations that you had sexually abused children?

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp

Sharp: “Did Bishop Herft, while he was the bishop of Newcastle, ever raise with you allegations that you had sexually abused children?”

No, he did not.

Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

Lawrence: “No, he did not.”

Sharp: “Your evidence is that on not one single occasion did Bishop Herft ever approach you about this topic?”

Lawrence: “He never did.”

Lawrence has denied attending any diocesan youth camp, but said he had slept overnight at a camp organised by Roger Herft where children were present.

He has denied knowing a couple known as Robert and Bronwyn Wall who alleged children had accused Lawrence had “sexually interfered” with them.

The Walls’ allegation was raised in dramatic fashion during an earlier part of the Anglican hearing in Newcastle, after Herft denied ever being told of allegations against Lawrence, and his letter to the Walls acknowledging the allegations and a subsequent denial by “the priest” was put to him.

Lawrence has denied being “the priest” referred to.

Lawrence: “The priest with whom he raised it was not me.”

Sharp: “And that is your evidence on your oath?”

Lawrence: “Absolutely on my oath.”

Sharp: “And is that the truth?”

Lawrence: “Of course it’s the truth.”

He denied that Herft raised another allegation against him in late 1996 or early 1997.

Lawrence has also denied an allegation made by priest Brian Kelly to Sydney Archbishop Goodhew that he (Lawrence) had “engaged in sexual activity with young boys”.

Lawrence said the information was “totally incorrect” and he had never been made aware of the allegation.

He denied that Herft had ever discussed it with him.

Sharp: “Tell me, is it right or wrong that Archbishop Goodhew indicated to you that he would block you applying for a position as bishop?”

Lawrence: “He never said that to me.”

Sharp produced a file note indicating Herft had spoken to “GRL” who had denied any wrongdoing.

1.12pm The Royal Commission has adjourned for lunch. Graeme Lawrence will give evidence when we return at 2pm.

12.32pm Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence is in a meeting room outside the main hearing room, and is preparing to give evidence after Bishop Peter Stuart completes his evidence.

Evidence: Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence

Evidence: Defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence

Solicitor Ms David for Newcastle Anglican priest Roger Dyer is putting questions to Bishop Stuart about meetings between the two men in 2009 relating to Dyer’s allegations about Peter Rushton, the late priest who has now been acknowledged by the diocese as a prolific paedophile.

Stuart is being questioned about an email where he acknowledged to Dyer that “the significant issue of past abuse by a priest was a subject matter”.

The two men were discussing Dyer’s hope to return to work after a period of illness.

David: “I want to suggest to you also that you were reluctant to have him go back to work at that particular time?”

Stuart: “I think I have recorded in another email my concern that he was more unwell than he thought he was and that was my reason why I thought he shouldn’t return to work.”

David: “Did you not accept, thought, that the fact of dealing with the allegations that he was hearing at the time was something that would be deeply distressing and difficult for a person in a parish to deal with?”

Stuart: “I don’t think that Roger Dyer was articulating those concerns with that – anything like that clarity. I think he was making some nebulous reflections on some of his predecessors.”

After several more questions, David put to Stuart: “What I’m suggesting to you is that at that particular time, when you wrote that letter, Roger was clearly telling you that the causes of his anxiety were these allegations that were going on at Wallsend about Peter Rushton that were being persistently ignored by the Anglican diocese at the time?”

Stuart: “I disagree.”

Stuart said that in July 2009, in a long-ranging conversation, Dyer “raised nebulous concerns about a whole range of matters to do with his predecessors”.

Lachlan Gyles, SC, for Bishop Greg Thompson is now putting short questions to Bishop Stuart.

Stuart has agreed with Gyles that a group at Christ Church Cathedral has shown “patent or open hostility” towards Bishop Thompson.

Gyles: “Can we take it or have you seen or observed that that sort of pressure and ostracisation has had a toll on him?”

Stuart: “Absolutely. Bishop Thompson is an exceptionally caring person who has a deep concern for the life of the diocese and the response of – the engagement by some people in the cathedral community towards him has had an absolute impact on him.”

Stuart said he also had experienced “hostility” from the cathedral group during his time as administrator before Bishop Thompson’s appointment in 2014.

Stuart said his commitment to dealing with the cathedral issue had been strengthened, partly because of the release of the cathedral group’s complaint against Bishop Thompson to royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan in April.

Stuart: “The cathedral is an important parish community and a landmark in the city of Newcastle. It is meant to be a beacon of spirituality to the community and it is meant to be a beacon of care to the community, and I’m absolutely committed to trying to make sure it gets there.”

Stuart is being questioned by lawyer Mr Taylor, for solicitor and former Newcastle solicitor Robert Caddies.

Stuart said he had written to the people who wrote the complaint to Justice McClellan to consider writing an apology to Bishop Thompson, and an apology to the royal commission.

One of five people who lost their positions on the cathedral parish council appealed the decision to the diocesan council, and the diocesan council had confirmed Stuart’s action.

Two people have apologised to Bishop Thompson. The royal commission was told Robert Caddies has not apologised to Bishop Thompson.

Stuart is now being questioned by his lawyer Ms McLaughlin about a statement by business manager John Cleary, not tendered in evidence yet, in which Cleary describes Stuart as making changes that are “pro-respondent” or making decisions that are “respondent-driven”.

McLaughlin: “What do you understand that term to mean?”

Stuart: “I think that John was suggesting in his statement that I was siding with people who wanted to undermine the professional standards system, which is simply not correct.”

McLaughlin: “Is there anything else that you wish to say in response to you being described in that way?”

Stuart: “I found, sadly, John’s statement really hurtful.”

Stuart has told the royal commission he supports the national redress scheme.

Justice McClellan has asked Stuart to comment on why sexual abuse has occurred in three dioceses in which he has worked- Newcastle, Tasmania and Adelaide.

He said Newcastle was the worst and “I don’t know that we were watching for those moments that were causes of concern.”

McClellan: “So you see it as a lack of supervisory structure?”

Stuart: “Yes, I do.”

McClellan: “Of clergy?”

Stuart: “Of clergy and of church workers – of lay workers.”

11.45am The Royal Commission has resumed after the morning tea break.

Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart has provided counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp with three names which are the subject of current diocese professional standards complaints.

Stuart is being questioned by Mr Alexis, lawyer for diocese business manager John Cleary, about events when former Bishop Brian Farran was considering not defrocking Graeme Lawrence.

Stuart has given evidence that he did not agree with that decision and put that, strongly, in writing.

He has also given evidence there was “significant negative engagement” with a sector of the “cathedral community” about Graeme Lawrence.

Alexis has put to Stuart that there was “a significant number of clergy within the diocese who were listening to that cohort of cathedral community and were acting in a way which was consistent with the views that they expressed regarding Graeme Lawrence”.

Evidence: Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart.

Evidence: Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart.

Stuart has not agreed with that.

Stuart has also not agreed with the assessment that Graeme Lawrence had a “very extensive sphere of influence throughout the diocese”.

Stuart: “I think Graeme Lawrence influenced some people, but I wouldn’t use the language of extensive and I’m not sure how many people were actually persuaded by his points of view.”

Stuart has not agreed that Bishop Farran was “intimidated” by Graeme Lawrence.

Alexis has put to Stuart: “Ultimately you fell in line with Bishop Farran’s decision (not to defrock Lawrence), didn’t you?”

Stuart: “No, ultimately what I did was enable him to enact the decision that he had made.”

Alexis: “Can you explain to us why, despite the view that you held, which was to the effect that the recommendations of the board should be implemented – why you didn’t speak and speak strongly against what it was that Bishop Farran was going to do at the time?”

Stuart: “Bishop Farran was entitled to make the decision that he was making and he was entitled to give those effect. I was assisting him to give effect to the decision he wanted to make.”

The royal commission has already heard that Farran changed his mind about defrocking Lawrence after speaking to the complainant in the Lawrence case.

Stuart was appointed acting registrar for one day to register the document about action against Lawrence. He has told the royal commission he was willing to sign the document, authorised by the bishop, no matter which way the bishop decided on the Lawrence matter.

Alexis: “So is this a form of canonical obedience – is that how we should understand it?”

Stuart: “To do what the bishop asks, yes.”

Stuart is being questioned about detail of professional standards matters. It’s a little dry. 

11.19am The Royal Commission has adjourned for morning tea. Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart continues to give evidence.

9.37am The Royal Commission has resumed.

Counsel assisting the royal commission Naomi Sharp has tendered professional standards board documents and amendments to the board.

Bishop Peter Stuart is in the witness box and has taken an oath to tell the truth.

Stuart has confirmed he was administrator of the diocese from 2012 until February 2014.

Stuart has been a member of the Anglican Church’s General Synod since 2004, and was a member when the church’s national professional standards ordinance was adopted. Stuart was subsequently familar with the professional standards framework when he arrived in Newcastle in 2009. The diocese had largely adopted the national model in 2005.

The significance of this information is in how amendments were proposed in the Newcastle ordinance because of controversial hearings involving clergy.

Stuart said he had “great concern” at diocesan council comment that the diocese did not have a professional standards protocol, which was an essential part of the professional standards framework.

The protocol “fleshes out the ordinance” and outlines the steps the committee and professional standards director should take in the event of allegations against clergy. It outlines the role of contact people and support offered to both complainants and respondents.

Stuart eventually found a protocol in 2010 that was passed in 2005.

Stuart is now being questioned about attempts by people within the diocese to remove professional standards director Michael Elliott. People raising the questions were mainly on the diocesan council.

Asked why people were dissatisfied, Stuart said: “I think they weren’t satisfied that he was doing the job appropriately.”

Stuart said he did not share that view.

Stuart: “I thought Michael could refine some aspects of what he was doing but I thought he was doing his job appropriately.”

Evidence: Bishop Peter Stuart.

Evidence: Bishop Peter Stuart.

Stuart said that as far as he was aware Graeme Lawrence did not apply for legal assistance after an investigation was launched into allegations against him.

Stuart said he became aware that Bishop Farran did not intend to follow the board’s recommendation to defrock Lawrence.

Sharp: “What was your view of the matter at the time?”

Stuart: “When I considered all of the material, I wrote a document for him in which I stated that he should remove – depose all four priests from holy orders and discipline the layperson.”

Sharp: “So was your view that Bishop Farran should act in accordance with the recommendations of the board?”

Stuart: “Yes, yes, it was.”

Sharp: “And did you communicate that view to Bishop Farran?”

Stuart: “Yes, I wrote a – so I prepared a statement as if I was him, and I said if I was doing what you are doing, this is what I’d say, and I went through a series of steps and the arguments why he should reach that conclusion.”

Sharp has taken Stuart to a section of a document, which Stuart said was the second version of the document, in which it refers to suspending the recommendation to depose Lawrence.

The document was created before Farran visited the main complainant in the Lawrence matter and was persuaded to defrock Lawrence, Stuart said.

Sharp: “And did you agree that that was the right course of action to take?”

Stuart: “Absolutely.”

Stuart is now being questioned about his statement that the policy-making process on professional standards in the diocese had been influenced by commentary and views that the professional standards process lacked procedural fairness. Clergy had expressed those concerns, he said.

He spoke specifically about the cases of priests Gumbley and COJ, which were the subject of an independent evaluation by respected law professor Patrick Parkinson. Parkinson found that the Gumbley matter was handled appropriately overall, and COJ should not have been suspended.

Parkinson did not find that the process lacked procedural fairness.

Sharp: “So to the extent that a procedural fairness concern had been raised in relation to those two matters, that concern had been independently investigated and the result of that independent investigation was that Professor Parkinson thought there was no denial of procedural fairness to either of those priests?”

Stuart: “Professor Parkinson gave me confidence, very full confidence, in the processes that had been in place in the part that I saw, that was the recommendation.”

Sharp is now questioning Stuart about an email by chancellor Paul Rosser sent to people including Stuart on August 31, 2010, proposing amendments to the professional standards ordinance.

At the end of the email Rosser said there was a body of opinion that the ordinance should be repealed in its entirety. Stuart said he believed the “body of opinion” represented a small number of people on the diocesan council. 

Sharp is questioning Stuart about his emailed response to Rosser, but a document is not available. We will return to it.

Sharp is questioning Stuart about why professional standards director Michael Elliott and committee chair Geoff Spring were not involved in a series of emails on this subject, prompted by Paul Rosser.

Stuart said involving people “at the coalface” was a good thing, but at the time he didn’t raise it.

Stuart: “I was being drawn into this conversation not leading this conversation. I wasn’t even sure at this particular point how much I should offer my views.”

Sharp is questioning Stuart about amendments made to the professional standards ordinance, including that the board’s recommendations could be reviewed before the bishop acted on them, under certain circumstances, including where there was a denial of procedural fairness.

There were further reviews, despite Parkinson’s report and finding that there was “no procedural fairness problem”, as put by Sharp to Stuart.

Sharp: “Did you turn your mind to the question at that time as to whether the continual reviews might send out a perception that the framework lacked legitimacy?”

Stuart: “No, I didn’t.”

The diocese considered and passed further amendments up to October, 2012.

Stuart is now being questioned about those amendments, including a provision that the findings of a professional standards board would be made available to the bishop and respondent clergy, but not the complainant or the public, in what Bishop Farran described as a “closed hearing”.

Stuart agreed that that was a significant diversion from what had been in place.

The amendments did allow the board to release its determinations and reasons 60 days after advising the bishop and respondent clergy, if the bishop had not already done so. It did not include release of the board’s recommendation. 

Sharp is now questioning Stuart about the consequence of that amendment – that the bishop and respondent priest were made aware of the outcome of a hearing, but the complainant was not made aware for at least 60 days.

Sharp: “So when you made this amendment, there wasn’t a focus on the needs and interests of the complainant?”

Stuart’s response included that “I think we should have given more attention to it”.

Stuart is now being questioned about a letter he sent to the current Bishop Greg Thompson on March 5, 2015, in relation to the amendments, where Stuart distinguishes between determinations and recommendations.

Sharp is quoting Stuart’s letter: “As I recall the consideration at the time, the intention behind the drafting in 2012 was to preserve the respondent’s right to seek a review of a finding and recommendation without them being in the public domain and to preserve the bishop’s ultimate authority as the one to act on a recommendation”.

The royal commission has been told that Michael Elliott advised Stuart that a complainant withdrew from the process because of the amendment that he or she would not be advised at the time that the bishop and respondent clergy were advised.

Professional standards board chairman Colin Elliott resigned from his position in December, 2012, in part because of the amendment change, in a letter saying: “There cannot be any doubt that to get the respect and confidence of the complainants – and the community – the protections provided by the ordinance must not only be user friendly and provide natural justice … but be seen to be independent.”

This begs the question: ‘How can this be seen to be in the interests of victims, especially child sexual abuse victims?'

Former Newcastle Anglican Diocese professional standards board chair Colin Elliott.

Colin Elliott: “This begs the question: ‘How can this be seen to be in the interests of victims, especially child sexual abuse victims’?”

Sharp: “The president of the board is raising very squarely his concern that the amendment to this regime might make victims, and in particular child sexual abuse victims, lose confidence in the process?”

Stuart: “Yes.”

The amendment was not changed until 2015.

There was a review of the professional standards framework in 2013 by lawyer and Anglican Rod Berry who expressed concern about the confusing and overlapping professional standards instruments.

Stuart is now being questioned about his knowledge of the diocese’s yellow documents containing information about abuse allegations against clergy, and discussions in early 2013 with Michael Elliott and business manager John Cleary. This followed a meeting between lawyer and diocesan trustee Keith Allen and Stuart, who was then acting as administrator. 

In a file note made in early 2013 Michael Elliott said Allen told Stuart there was a group that undertook regular reviews of allegations. Members of the review panel had included Graeme Lawrence, diocese lawyer Robert Caddies and former bishops Alfred Holland and Richard Appleby.

Sharp asked Stuart if he ever got to the bottom of whether there was such a review committee. Stuart said he didn’t.

Elliott’s file note included that Allen told Stuart that Peter Rushton and at least one other priest were part of an organised paedophile network centred on Cessnock.

Sharp: “Is that something that Keith Allen told you?”

Stuart: “I don’t recall as much specific detail as Michael has put into this note. i accept that it may have been part of what was said…. Certainly what Keith Allen was saying to me was that there were people who were known to each other who were involved in vastly inappropriate conduct.”

Sharp: “By vastly inappropriate conduct?”

Stuart: “Child sexual abuse.”

Sharp: “Rushton was identified to you by Keith Allen as one of those people?”

Stuart: “Yes.”

Stuart has expanded on why he spoke to Michael Elliott about his conversation with Keith Allen.

Stuart: “This was all new to me. I wanted to make sure that Michael had the best and as prompt recollection as I could give out of the conversation that I had had with keith Allen. So as I felt I had been downloaded on by Keith Allen, I was downloading on to Michael so that Michael had whatever I had heard, so that he could work with it.”

Stuart has confirmed there are “a group of people who are involved with the cathedral who, among other issues, have been supportive of Graeme Lawrence” and continue to be until today.

Stuart said he was “just astounded” when the letter sent by prominent cathedral parishioners in April to Justice Peter McClellan, complaining about current Bishop Greg Thompson, was made public at the first part of the Anglican diocese public hearing in August.

Stuart: “The contents of that, the questioning of whether he had been a victim of abuse, the questioning of his integrity really, really troubled me.”

Stuart has told the royal commission he accepted responsibility for dealing with the matter, after a discussion with Thompson.

Stuart: “I removed five of the signatories from their role on the parish council and then I asked the diocesan council whether the cathedral parish council should be dissolved and whether the decision-making authority of the parish should be suspended until further notice, and the diocesan council agreed.”

The royal commission has been told the diocese’s cap of $75,000 in compensation to survivors of child sexual abuse had been increased to $150,000, and the St John’s Theological College, Morpeth site had been sold, and some of the proceeds would be devoted to funding redress.

Stuart has told the royal commission the diocese was “looking at whether there are pockets of money available that we can use for those purposes (compensation to survivors)”

Stuart: “We’ve got an internal bank called our savings and development fund. We’ve made that compulsory, so that the profits can be shared with the diocese to make sure that there is funding available. We’ve put a levy on to parishes, we’ve put a levy on to property sales and it’s around continuing to look at it so that we can fund redress.”

9.25am Royal Commission day 14 

Hello everyone. It’s Joanne McCarthy at the royal commission for day 14 of the inquiry into Newcastle Anglican diocese’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations over decades.

On Thursday we had a full day of evidence from retired Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran, who told the hearing how he agonised over the decision to defrock his friend and former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence after a professional standards board hearing in 2010 into sexual abuse allegations involving a teenager from the 1980s that resulted in a recommendation to defrock him.

Farran told the public hearing he had planned to prohibit Lawrence from any ministry activities but eventually defrocked him after meeting with the main complainant.

While the 2010 hearings divided the diocese and caused significant damage to the church in the Hunter, evidence to the royal commission from the first day of the hearing in Newcastle in August shows that child sexual abuse involving clergy had been a silent but significant issue for decades.

This morning we will hear evidence from Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart, who headed the diocese during the difficult period between Bishop Farran’s departure and the arrival of current Bishop Greg Thompson.

Bishop Stuart arrived at the hearing shortly before 9am with his lawyer.

We spoke. He said he was nervous - understandably so, given the hearing is live-streamed and for the period you’re in the witness box, you are the centre of attention – but this was “a necessary process”.

The hearing will start at 9.30am. Counsel assisting the royal commission Naomi Sharp told commission chair Justice Peter McClellan on Thursday that she expected to question Stuart for about 90 minutes. We can probably expect he would face some questioning from lawyers representing other witnesses.

It has not yet been confirmed but we could see former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence giving evidence after Stuart.

Lawrence chose not to take part in the professional standards board hearing. I will have to check but my memory is that he also did not give evidence at his unsuccessful NSW Supreme Court appeal against the diocese over the professional standards hearing.

For those reasons his appearance at the royal commission is keenly anticipated by many.

This story Live coverage: Day 14 of the Royal Commission public hearing into Newcastle Anglican diocese first appeared on Newcastle Herald.