PHOTOS of Newcastle’s Anglican bishops and deans could be removed from Christchurch Cathedral after shocking evidence about church knowledge of child sex offenders in the Hunter region.
The Cathedral board will decide in February if photos, including of defrocked former Dean Graeme Lawrence and Archbishop Roger Herft – the highest-ranking Australian casualty of the church’s dark history of abuse - will be removed under a diocese renewal process.
Bishop Peter Stuart told parishioners that Cathedral picture walls of former bishops and deans were distressing for some survivors of abuse “because it appears as though church is continuing to honour people” who failed to protect children or caused them harm.
Although church buildings told the history of an area’s ministry it was important to consider whether the photos should be removed and the diocese’s leadership story told in another way, Bishop Stuart said in a letter to parishioners on January 19.
The proposal comes 18 months after Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson marked his 500th day in the position by making a formal apology to abuse survivors, and warning of shocking evidence to come at a Newcastle Anglican hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“Some of our photos of clergy are going to be difficult to hang on the walls after the royal commission,” Bishop Thompson said in June, 2015, before speaking in public about being sexually abused by the late Newcastle Anglican Bishop Ian Shevill.
“What is being revealed is the shadow lives of some. The good that some people in the past did does not somehow balance out the fact that they allowed this to happen.”
The Newcastle Anglican hearing in August and November heard evidence from six current or former Newcastle Anglican bishops, including Archbishop Herft, and defrocked former Dean Graeme Lawrence.
Archbishop Herft resigned in December after admitting to the royal commission he had been told three times that Mr Lawrence had sexually abused children, but failed to pass information to police. He also told the commission he gave “incorrect” evidence when he previously told the commission that no one raised concerns with him about Mr Lawrence.
The commission also heard evidence Archbishop Herft was warned about the shocking child sex crimes of priest Peter Rushton, but did not contact police.
Bishop Alfred Holland denied any knowledge of child sex offending in the diocese during his time as bishop between 1978 and 1992, and promoted two serial child sex offenders and a priest to positions of authority.
Mr Lawrence, who was defrocked in 2012 after a church inquiry found he had had group sex with another priest and a 17-year-old boy, was one of a powerful “gang of three” who protected Rushton within the diocese, the commission heard.
Cathedral parishioner and former Newcastle Lord Mayor John McNaughton did not respond to a request for comment. Mr McNaughton was one of a number of prominent Newcastle Anglicans who criticised Bishop Thompson in a letter to royal commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan.
The commission heard there was an orcestrated campaign against the bishop from within the Cathedral parish.
Two other former Cathedral parishioners said they did not want to comment or be identified.