THE royal commission has heard sensational evidence of a “cover-up” of sexual abuse by Anglican priests in the Newcastle diocese, including an alleged secret file of misconduct cases kept in “brown envelopes” by former bishop Roger Herft – now the Archbishop of Perth.
- Church investigator says files listed more than 70 cases
- Priest had child porn
- Prominent people supported Lawrence after his defrocking
- Removalist says he saw child porn in Rushton’s rectory
- Confidential report on yellow envelopes
- Solicitor Allen grilled for third day on abuse
- Solicitor denies “fixing” statement to Royal Commission
- Sex with priests began at age of 14
- Royal Commission hears of “brown envelope” cases
- Lawyer admits tearing up priest’s resignation letter
- Bishop, lawyers in stand
The existence of the “brown envelope” system emerged from file notes of information provided by a solicitor and former trustee of the diocese, Keith Allen, to the diocese’s current business manager, John Cleary, in early 2015.
The brown envelopes have close parallels to evidence given in the 2013 state inquiry into the Newcastle Catholic church, which heard that details of abuse cases were kept in a filing cabinet upstairs in the bishop’s office.
In the royal commission witness box for the second day, Mr Allen initially disputed Mr Cleary’s written accounts before agreeing with the chairman of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, that there had been “a do-nothing and a cover-up” culture within the diocese, and that he had been part of it.
Late on Monday, Justice McClellan put it to Mr Allen that “there has been great controversy in the diocese about sexual abuse matters” and that “there are many who believe that what is necessary in the diocese is for a very serious boil to be lanced, don’t they”?
Justice McClellan: That was because it was a do-nothing and a cover-up and protect the church approach, wasn’t it?”
Mr Allen: “That was a factor, sir.”
Justice McClellan: “And you were part of that practice, weren’t you?”
Mr Allen: “Yes.”
The file notes were revealing because they provided recent accounts of historic issues that Mr Allen and other witnesses had said since the start of the hearings last week that they could not recall or remember.
The first file note examined, from March 2015, revealed Mr Allen had “advised the biggest problem in the Newcastle diocese at the time” was Bishop Herft, who ran the diocese from 1993 to 2005.
Mr Allen was quoted as saying “Herft will be in trouble . . . mainly because of [his] handling of the brown envelopes through Herft’s brown envelope advisory/review committee”, of which Mr Allen was a member.
He was quoted as saying that Bishop Herft’s predecessor, Bishop Alfred Holland, had a “do-nothing approach”.
The March file note quoted Mr Allen as saying the “culture in Bishop Herft’s time . . . was a culture of not reporting child sexual abuse matters to the police”.
“Exposure risk was the only concern” and “disciplining the priest was never on the radar . . .”
The note said the only matter Bishop Herft ever reported to police was the “matter of Peter Mitchell defrauding the diocese” – a reference to the former church registrar stealing almost $200,000 over nine years and being jailed in 2002.
It said the police were looking again at the CKC matter – one of the case studies of alleged sexual abuse being examined in this hearing – and that Bishop Herft had “never disciplined” the priest in question.
It described the disgraced and defrocked former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, as “a great confidant for ‘priests in trouble’ at the diocese”.
Mr Lawrence’s name was added this week to the list of people to give evidence, and he has sat listening to Mr Allen’s evidence over both days.
Mr Allen was also asked about a meeting he had with Bishop Thompson and Mr Cleary in February last year, in which he had said the diocesan archive at the University of Newcastle was a concern because there was “information . . . relating to St John’s College Morpeth and its history of child sexual abuse”.
That file note also recorded discussion about the case of Wyong priest Stephen Hatley Gray – the priest that Bishop Holland and his former assistant, Bishop Richard Appleby, had both insisted had resigned because he “trashed the rectory” after a wild party.
Bishop Appleby gave evidence that he drove to collect the resignation on February 11, 1990, which turned out to be the day before Gray was charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy. Mr Gray, who died in 2010, was given a three-year good-behaviour bond and a $100 fine for the assault, which Mr Allen agreed was a very generous treatment by the court.
Confronted with Mr Cleary’s February 2015 file note, Mr Allen – who represented Gray at his trial – eventually admitted under questioning from Justice McClelland that he had “ripped up” Gray’s original resignation letter, which had been written after he was charged.
Justice McClellan: “You were party to the circumstances in which the false document was created, weren’t you?”
Mr Allen: “Yes, I certainly destroyed the first resignation.”
Justice McClellan: “It looks like a fraud, doesn’t it? It is a false representation as to his status?”
Mr Allen: “It could be described as that.”
Mr Allen subsequently agreed that he believed at the time that Gray was “a dangerous sexual predator” but that by participating in the fraudulent resignation he was allowing him to get a job in another diocese because he would have resigned “in good standing”.
Mr Cleary’s March file note revealed Gray was appointed as a youth worker in the Willochra diocese, in South Australia, soon after the “charges were dealt with”.
The note also quoted Mr Allen as saying the “cathedral culture was unhealthy”, which Mr Cleary took to mean “there were many persons of concern based at this parish”.
Late in the day, Mr Allen confirmed he took lamingtons to a meeting with another church figure, a reference to another incident involving Gray, when he had “sex with an underage male on top of a table with lamingtons on the table’”.
When Justice McClellan asked if he thought it was funny, Mr Allen said he did not. The hearing resumes on Tuesday.