ROYAL commission chair Justice Peter McClellan accused solicitor Robert Caddies of leading “coordinated opposition” to Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson during an explosive few minutes of evidence after a group of senior Newcastle Anglicans complained to the royal commission about the bishop in April.
In extraordinary letters sent to Sydney Archbishop Glenn Davies and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the group that included Mr Caddies and former Newcastle Lord Mayor John McNaughton, questioned Bishop Thompson’s “unsubstantiated” claim he was groomed and sexually abused by two senior clerics, including the late Bishop Ian Shevill.
The bishop revealed the abuse in a Newcastle Herald article in October, 2015.
“If the allegation were correct, Bishop Thompson apparently took no action at the time, and until recently, to report the supposed abuse, thus potentially exposing younger members of the diocese to the danger involved,” the Newcastle group wrote in a letter to the royal commission in April that was revealed on Tuesday, on the 11th day of a public hearing into Newcastle Anglican diocese.
The letter said the group was “gravely concerned” about “the behaviour of, and statements made by” the bishop.
“You were wanting the royal commission to investigate the bishop, is that what it amounted to?” Justice McClellan asked Mr Caddies, who was diocesan lawyer for nine years until 2005, and a friend of defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.
Mr Caddies told the royal commission that “many people” had “expressed views” about the many years between the abuse of Thompson and his decision to speak about it in public. The royal commission has heard expert evidence that abuse survivors can take decades to report abuse.
“Were you seeking to say to the royal commission that because it’s taken so long, the bishop’s credibility should be looked at?” Justice McClellan said.
Mr Caddies: “No, not at all.”
Justice McClellan: “Not at all?”
Mr Caddies: “I don’t believe so.”
Mr Caddies acknowledged he had challenged Bishop Thompson’s credibility, after Justice McClellan questioned him about a statement to the royal commission in which he said: “I question if Bishop Thompson was in fact abused, why didn’t he report it earlier?”
Justice McClellan questioned Mr Caddies about the “very serious division” in the diocese that started with professional standards hearings in 2010 against Graeme Lawrence after child sex allegations against him.
“You’re in one side of the divisions, aren’t you?” Justice McClellan said.
“Yes, I probably am, your Honour,” Mr Caddies said.
Justice McClellan accused Mr Caddies of leading “coordinated opposition” to the bishop.
Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp questioned Mr Caddies about a “bloc” associated with Newcastle Christ Church Cathedral that was “seeking to undermine Bishop Thompson at the moment”.
“I wouldn’t call it a bloc, but they are people, they’re diverse people from all walks of life and from various places in Newcastle in that list. I wouldn’t call them a bloc,” Mr Caddies said.
He denied the group was trying to undermine the bishop.
“No, I don’t think it is quite the position. We have concerns about him and in relation to management of the diocese,” Mr Caddies said.
In earlier evidence to the royal commission former Newcastle Anglican chancellor Paul Rosser, QC, denied traumatising a victim of former Anglican youth worker James Brown during cross examination at a committal hearing in 1997, 13 years before Brown was eventually jailed for serious child sexual abuse of more than 20 young boys.
“I don’t know about traumatised. I think he was angered. I don’t pretend it was a gentle cross examination. It wasn’t intended to be,” Mr Rosser told the royal commission.
He said it was an “object of the cross examination to discredit” the complainant.
Mr Rosser told Justice McClellan he was aware of the common concern of people who have been abused, that the “criminal justice process is so harsh that they’re not prepared to become involved in it”.
“I am aware of that perception. I’d have to say I’ve become more aware of it over the years,” Mr Rosser said.
“Do you agree that the process is harsh?” Justice McClellan asked.
“I agree that… it’s no fun giving evidence and being cross examined,” Mr Rosser said.
The royal commission has adjourned the Newcastle Anglican diocese public hearing until November 16 when the hearing resumes in Sydney.
On Wednesday, August 31, the royal commission will start a public hearing into Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations over decades.
It will consider the case of Catholic paedophile priest Vince Ryan and Marist Brother child sex offenders Brother Romuald and Brother Patrick.