STEVE Smith stood outside Government House in Canberra on Friday morning to watch royal commissioners hand over their final child sexual abuse reports and recommendations to Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
The Newcastle man, and survivor of child sexual abuse by a Hunter Anglican priest, spent several hours with other survivors and Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were sexually abused by a Catholic priest and whose campaigner husband Anthony died in May.
“The Governor General came outside to talk with us and the commissioners stopped for a while to talk with us so that we could thank them,” said Mr Smith.
“It was good. It was the full stop to see it really happening. The ball’s now in the government’s court. The commissioners have done their job and the politicians have got to react, one way or the other.”
Mr Smith was the final witness to give evidence at the final royal commission public hearing in April.
He told the royal commission he was sexually abused by Reverend Graeme Parker for four years from the age of 10. His mother reported the abuse to the then Newcastle Anglican Bishop Ian Shevill who was dismissive.
In 1984 Mr Smith first told the diocese it had a “network” of paedophiles preying on children. The royal commission heard distressing evidence of senior diocese members, including clergy and lay people, who were aware of child sex allegations but failed to act, and protected clergy sex abusers.
The appalling treatment of Mr Smith by Newcastle Anglican diocese after he sought help as an adult led to some of the most shocking evidence of the Newcastle royal commission public hearings in 2016.
Mr Smith said the trauma of his treatment as a child and an adult meant he could not look at Christ Church Cathedral.
“It was a place of horror for me. I’d served as an altar boy and I was terrified of the place.”
Since a public apology by former Newcastle Anglican Bishop Brian Farran, and the truth about his shameful treatment by seven or eight senior Newcastle Anglicans, Mr Smith has spent time in the cathedral.
“It’s a beautiful building. I actually like it as a building, but for years it dominated the skyline as an awful reminder of what the church did to me.”
On his first visit to the cathedral after Bishop Farran’s apology Mr Smith stepped over a rope designed to stop the public from going further.
His treatment by the church denied it the right to call any area sacred, Mr Smith said.
“I stepped over the rope to say you don’t have that right because of what you’ve done. I walked where I wanted to walk and I took it back,” he said.
“I want people to be able to look at the cathedral as representing some form of hope. I want good Anglicans to be able to take back their church and exclude the ones who did what they did to children.”
The royal commission had empowered him and thousands of other child sexual abuse survivors, he said.
“I’m not scared of the cathedral. That’s been the effect of the royal commission, being able to see people who had such enormous power in churches in the past all sat down on their backsides and made to answer for what they’d done. I think the royal commission has just broken the back of that power.”
After watching the final report be delivered to the Governor General, Mr Smith and his wife went to old parliament house in Canberra where they saw a copy of the Magna Carta, from 1215.
“I was reading a copy and it said ‘No person is above the law’. Where does that fit in with 2017 where some people in churches still think they are?”