Former Newcastle bishop Roger Herft has told the royal commission he “failed miserably” in his response to priest abuse victim CKA.
Resuming after a morning adjournment, Reverend Herft, now the Archbishop of Perth, was taken through his handling of a number of matters that took place during his watch, including the CKA/CKC matter, disgraced priest Peter Rushton and the seminary student Ian Barrack, who left the Morpeth college before being ordained and was subsequently convicted of child sexual abuse.
Questioned by counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp, Reverend Herft agreed that there had been two allegations raised with him against Rushton, on top of the child pornography matter, but he disagreed with her description of there being “alarm bells ringing”.
He agreed he did not take action against Rushton despite being told he had his “own group of boys”.
He said he had been “deeply fooled” by Rushton into believing that he had changed his ways, when he had not.
On Ian Barrack, the seminary student who had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy code-named CKU, Reverend Herft said he could not recall “exactly” what happened when became aware of the initial allegations against Barrack, that he had shown the boy pornography and had given him a lewd toy that showed a man having sex with a sheep.
Ms Sharp showed Reverend Herft a May 1999 file note indicating he had told the Department of Community Services about the toy but it was decided at the time that it was not a criminal matter.
In 2002, Reverend Herft agreed he became aware of more serious allegations against Barrack involving CKU, but the church did not open a file because the police were involved but he now agreed it was “a serious omission on my part”.
On the case involving victim CKA and the priest CKC, Reverend Herft was shown correspondence showing that the initial approaches to the church had been handled by the since-defrocked dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence.
He was shown correspondence showing that lawyer Paul Rosser – who would later act to defend CKC in a trial that was discontinued by the Director of Public Prosecutions – had advised the diocese on how to handle the case.
Reverend Herft said his recollection was that he did not find out out about Mr Rosser acting as defence counsel until he heard about it through the media.
Keith Allen, a solicitor involved in the case and a significant lay figure in the church, had written to Reverend Herft keeping him informed of progress in the case, although Revered Herft disputed Ms Sharp’s description of it as “closely informed”.
“I’m not sure closely would be the right word,” Reverend Herft said.
Ms Sharp said Mr Allen was keeping him informed of progress on the case, including an arraignment date, but Reverend Herft said he was “simply being made aware that this particular matter was taking place”.
When Reverend Herft said he could not recall when he first knew Mr Rosser was acting for priest CKC, Ms Sharp said: “Another thing you can’t recall?”
Reverend Herft: ‘”There are lots of things I can recall but this particular fact I cannot.”
He agreed, looking back, that “it was completely and utterly unacceptable” for Mr Rosser to act as defence counsel for CKC.
He agreed with Ms Sharp that he had an obligation to ensure that officers in his diocese acted appropriately and that he did not discharge his responsibility in this regard.
The commision was shown a letter from Mr Allen thanking Reverend Herft for the support he had provided to CKC during the trial and a letter from his alleged victim, CKA, saying that it was a pity the church “chose to expend its resources and personnel in defence of [CKC]”.
Reverend Herft responded: “I and the church failed miserably in our response to [CKA] in not providing pastoral care and certainty . . .”
The hearing will resume after lunch.