FORMER Newcastle Anglican Dean Graeme Lawrence was ‘‘a very powerful man’’ who allegedly ‘‘protected’’ people including possibly a convicted child sex offender priest, the royal commission has been told.
The recently defrocked Mr Lawrence was ‘‘quite a powerful person who exercised influence over even bishops’’, former diocese professional standards director Philip Gerber said yesterday.
During his time as Dean, Newcastle Anglican Cathedral became ‘‘a place where people who had less than savoury pasts were congregating’’.
‘‘There was a lot of sort of low-level information that made me very uneasy about who and what was going on at the cathedral,’’ Mr Gerber said.
It was no surprise to Mr Gerber that sex offender priest Allan Kitchingman worshipped at the cathedral after he was released from jail in 2004 for crimes committed against a 13-year-old boy at North Coast Children’s Home at Lismore in 1975.
Mr Gerber said he ‘‘could be completely off the mark’’, but the then-Dean Lawrence’s ‘‘power’’ could have ‘‘protected’’ Kitchingman against disciplinary action from Newcastle or Grafton bishops.
Kitchingman remained on the diocese’s clergy list while in jail and until 2007. The then-Dean Lawrence wrote a character reference for him that was tendered at his trial.
Mr Lawrence was defrocked last year after sexual misconduct findings against him.
People with ‘‘some sort of history’’ of misconduct or abuse were ‘‘collecting around the cathedral’’ during Mr Lawrence’s time as Dean, Mr Gerber alleged.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard yesterday that Kitchingman and another former children’s home chaplain, Canon Campbell Brown, later moved to Newcastle.
Former children’s home resident Tommy Campion alleged in 2005 that he was sexually abused by Canon Brown, the commission was told.
The Newcastle diocese did not take disciplinary action against Kitchingman after his conviction, or Canon Brown after Mr Campion’s allegations were raised.
While Mr Gerber had concerns about the cathedral under Graeme Lawrence, he did not raise them with the sexual abuse working group because he didn’t have anything concrete to raise.
Concerns about Newcastle extended as far as Sydney, where an archbishop stepped in when Dean Lawrence was proposed as bishop.
The archbishop said ‘‘I won’t stand for that’’, the commission heard.
Mr Gerber expressed his regret for failing to take disciplinary action against Kitchingman.
Mr Gerber said that in his mind, Kitchingman had been convicted, was no longer practising and had been dealt with.
‘‘I’m very regretful of that and in retrospect looking back certainly if it had been a Sydney person I would have acted decisively,’’ he said.
Mr Gerber also expressed remorse about not referring a letter detailing sexual and physical abuse allegations against staff at the Lismore home to the police.
Abuse survivor Richard ‘‘Tommy’’ Campion sent the letter.
‘‘I am very unhappy with myself I didn’t take the sort of steps that you are talking about ... and am quite embarrassed and apologise that it might have potentially put other people at risk, children and other vulnerable people at risk,’’ Mr Gerber said.
‘‘I’m appalled my actions might have caused that.’’