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Rape among the lamingtons

Tragic evidence of child sexual abuse in the Newcastle Anglican Church

Image of Ian Shevill

Ian Shevill, Bishop of Newcastle (1973–1977). © Fairfax Images

CoverMay 2017Long read
 

A survivor, Paul Gray, takes the stand. He has a gentle, sad face and a soft voice. As he reads his statement his head is down, his shoulders hunched. He speaks hesitantly, and at times his voice breaks, or he exhales in a sigh.

It is August 2016, and we are assembled in the Newcastle Courthouse to hear the 42nd Case Study of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Paul Gray grew up during the 1960s in Cessnock, a coalmining town in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. There he attended the Anglican church and Sunday school. He became an altar boy and a member of the Church of England Boys’ Society, which held outdoor camps. His parish priest was Father Peter Rushton, a flamboyant and charismatic preacher with a domineering personality and a sharp tongue. Rushton became Gray’s godfather, visiting his house regularly.

Gray testifies that, when he was ten years old, he was anally raped by Rushton in the bedroom of the rectory. Until he was 14, he was raped on a weekly or fortnightly basis by Rushton, often after he had delivered a church service.

“Father Peter would cut my back with a small knife and smear my blood on my back … that was actually symbolic of the blood of Christ – as he continued to anally rape me. After the sexual intercourse, he would clean my wound with white towels.”

On other occasions Rushton would demand oral sex be performed while he was in church, dressed in his clerical robes. Once, Gray testified, a woman entered the vestry, “saw us and left immediately … she sat in the congregation and stared at me during the church service”. This woman did not report the matter to the church or police. It was Gray she stared at; not Rushton, the abusing priest.

One day, Gray was taken to Rushton’s house where he was raped. Then he was taken to a camp south of Newcastle called Yondaio where there were at least five men and another boy. At this point in his testimony, Gray gasps and pauses, tears beginning to flow. The camp had been sold to parents as being about boys hunting wildlife with torches, all jolly and innocent fun. In reality, the predators were the priests. And the boys were their prey.

“I recall the men saying, ‘We are going to get you.’ From my previous experience I knew this meant that they were going to sexually abuse me. I was chased by two men to the edge of a cliff and I hid in the bushes. After I was dragged from the bushes, I was raped by the two men. While I was being raped I could hear another boy screaming.”

Gray is now sobbing openly. A support person next to him ministers to him tenderly, giving him water, sitting close, reaching out. The chief commissioner, Justice Peter McClellan, leans over and gently asks if Gray wants a recess or someone else to read his statement.

Gray: No, I need to read it.
McClellan: You want to read it.
Gray: No, I need to read it.
McClellan: Very well.
Gray: It’s important to me.
McClellan: Yes, I understand.

So Gray keeps reading, his sobs growing louder, his chest heaving, tears streaming down his cheeks. He is entirely lucid through all this. It is a keening, a grief-filled lament flowing out into the world. Sometimes he pauses, gathers strength and then reads on.

The worst thing, Gray says, was when Rushton took him to the Anglican orphanage, St Albans Boys’ Home. He begged Rushton, “Don’t leave me here.” Rushton left him. He was led by three men to “what they called ‘the fucking room’ where they took turns to rape me”. Rushton took Gray to St Albans repeatedly over the next 18 months.

“Sometimes two or three men would visit me at the same time on the same day … [One of the caretakers] would keep me quiet before and after the abuse by beating me, if I ever made any noise at all … on one occasion there were between six and eight men present. These men made me and five other boys lay facedown on beds … each of the men picked a boy and each of the boys were taken into different rooms and abused.”

Gray is still sobbing.

“Could I have a drink of water, please? I need five minutes. Could I have five minutes?”

After the short break, Gray relays how when Rushton’s paedophilia became public in 2009 it acted as a trigger and he began suffering flashbacks. “Since then, memories of sexual abuse experiences have continued to flood back to me.” Gray suffered a complete breakdown. He was admitted to psychiatric hospitals on a number of occasions, and has struggled with the trauma ever since.

Gray’s story has been corroborated by other men abused on the Yondaio camp and at St Albans. In 2009, the Anglican Church offered a public apology by the then bishop, Brian Farran. Rushton was a serial paedophile, and part of a network in the Hunter Valley. He was the worst of the worst, psychopathic in his cruelty.

When Gray finishes his testimony, he is done with his open, brave weeping. He asks if people would “abide” for a moment of silence for all those who “could no longer face the struggle of carrying the scars of their child abuse another day and chose to end their suffering by taking their own lives”. McClellan agrees.

The courtroom falls silent.


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is unique. Established by Julia Gillard in 2013, by the time it delivers its final report on 15 December this year, it will have been the longest-running, and most thorough, investigation of its kind anywhere. There is tremendous interest in it worldwide. There have been other inquiries, in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, but none has been so comprehensive, detailed and remorselessly forensic in its investigations. The royal commission has examined allegations that the sexual abuse of children occurred at more than 4000 institutions across Australia. There have been 6500 private sessions with people who came forward about their abuse, with 2000 more remaining to be heard. By December, the royal commission will have sat for 440 days of public hearings, and heard evidence from more than 1200 witnesses. The advantage of a royal commission lies not only in its scope but also in its ability to compulsorily summons individuals, and to cross-examine witnesses under oath. By December, it will have examined more than 1.2 million subpoenaed documents.

The royal commission is remarkable in another way. It is both reflective of and a powerful contributor to a cultural revolution that has ushered in a new sensibility about child sexual abuse. The old pro-perpetrator regime in religious organisations – the covering up, the protecting of the churches’ hierarchy and reputation, the turning of a blind eye to abusers while sending them to new parishes (and fresh victims) – has been under intense and damning scrutiny. Perpetrators and their protectors are being called to account. The shameful record of disbelieving and silencing victims, and of putting the churches’ wealth into discrediting them in court, has been exposed. The national mood has shifted decisively in favour of believing, listening to and respecting the suffering of survivors.

In his 2013 opening address, Justice McClellan said that bearing witness to survivors would be a large part of the commission’s role. That was evidenced by how respectfully Gray’s pain was received by those listening. By the time of the final hearing on 27 March this year, many survivors paid tribute to McClellan. He has been an outstanding chair. Fair-minded and prodigiously hardworking, McClellan is a plain-speaking man who does not genuflect towards powerful, high-status clergy. He has acute moral judgement, and is quick to pounce on the dissembling, the self-deception, the obfuscation, the fudging with euphemism, and the plain old-fashioned lying. The philosopher Raimond Gaita has written of the need for wrongdoers to be drawn to “a serious, lucid responsiveness to the moral significance” of what they have done. McClellan repeatedly did this by presenting the perpetrator or protector with their actions in simple, stark terms.

Most important, however, in an investigation with so much raw human suffering, has been the kindness and empathy that McClellan displayed to survivors. According to Leonie Sheedy from the Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN), McClellan “gets it”. She is sceptical of anyone wearing the mantle of authority and was suspicious of McClellan at first, yet when he came to a CLAN meeting held in a garage, sat down and asked everyone to call him Peter, and then listened attentively all afternoon to survivors, Sheedy was impressed. She became more hopeful. She gave him a cushion that she found in an op shop, emblazoned with the logo of his beloved Melbourne Football Club. At one of the hearings Sheedy realised McClellan was sitting on it. He takes it to every hearing.

For good reason, a great deal of the royal commission’s focus has been on the largest denomination in Australia, the Catholic Church (representing 46% of churchgoers). It had more than 2000 alleged abusers (more than any other institution) and 4444 allegations of child sexual abuse. The Anglican Church is the third-largest denomination (11% of churchgoers) yet has faced more than 1000 complaints of child sexual abuse. Between 1980 and 2015, the Catholic Church paid out $280 million to survivors. During the same period the Anglicans paid just over $34 million. All but one of the Anglican dioceses across Australia had complaints in the past 35 years. One of the very worst was Newcastle.

The royal commission had come to Newcastle to ask: who knew about the abuse, when did they know it, and what did they do?


In his probing study States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, Stanley Cohen writes about the kinds of denial that allow both perpetrators and their protectors to evade truthful recognition of what has occurred and to avoid taking action. The first form, literal denial, is very direct. It simply says “It did not happen” or “The person is lying” or “I have no recollection” or (a frequent way of justifying inaction) “I didn’t know; I wasn’t told”. This type was seen so often in Newcastle.

There were plenty of red flags about Father Rushton. Alfred Holland, Newcastle’s bishop from 1978 to 1992, had seven warnings about Rushton’s offending in just two years. In 1979 a parishioner, Suzan Aslin, warned Professor David Frost, her academic teacher and a member of Newcastle’s Anglican synod, that Rushton and his lover, lay preacher Jim Brown, were going on a sex tour of Europe. Brown, who was later convicted and imprisoned for 20 years for serious crimes of child sexual abuse, had groomed one of her sons. Aslin asked Frost to tell Holland. Frost told the royal commission that he contacted Holland, who asked him “to leave the matter entirely with me”. According to Aslin’s evidence, Holland rang her some time later and pronounced himself “appalled” by what she had told Frost. But Holland did nothing.

In another instance, in 1980, an assistant priest’s son, aged four or five, told his mother that Rushton had masturbated in front of him. The mother testified that Holland did not believe the family’s accusation, and was “dismissive”. Rushton came to the door of the family’s home “in a rage” and “threatened to sue”. After the complaint to Holland, the assistant priest’s wife felt a subtle but decisive shift in the attitude towards them, that somehow they had been sidelined. Holland later told the assistant priest that “there was no room for him in the diocese”. His wife received a letter from the diocese’s law firm, demanding that she stop talking about the abuse.

Several other witnesses gave evidence to the royal commission confirming this account. A parishioner, Pamela Wilson, was told by the assistant priest’s wife that “she had found her little boy, lying in a ball in his bed crying … he told her whatever he could that Rushton had done to him”. Rushton threatened Wilson with defamation, frightening her off telling the bishop. Three other parishioners gave corroborating evidence that they were told about the abuse. Two of them attended a meeting with Holland. Holland did nothing. Instead, in 1983, he gave Rushton a promotion.

Holland, now in his 90s, gave evidence to the royal commission via video link, with his head bowed. After hearing Gray’s testimony it was painful to listen when Holland praised Rushton as a very popular priest: busy, well organised and well respected. He claimed he was not aware that Rushton fostered boys. He was not aware of any allegations about Rushton, nor aware of boys living with him. Holland said he had “no recollection” of ever being told of any child sexual abuse during his time at Newcastle. Had he been told, he would have acted decisively, bringing the parties together. This showed how confused he was. Child sexual abuse is never a conciliation matter but a crime for which the police must be notified. Holland denied ever being told about the assistant priest’s son being abused by Rushton. He said he had “no recollection” of meeting with or talking to David Frost, Suzan Aslin, the assistant priest and his wife, or the other parishioners. “Is it your testimony,” counsel assisting Naomi Sharp asked in her dulcet tones, that it was “a figment of Ms Aslin’s imagination? … Bishop Holland, are you telling me the truth in answer to my questions?”

“Yes I am,” he replied.

McClellan intervened. “You were CEO of the diocese and licensed [Rushton] to do his criminal activities. Do you acknowledge any responsibility?”

Holland said no.

McClellan asked Holland, “Do you accept any responsibility in having failed to exercise your management responsibilities effectively?”

Holland replied, “I don’t acknowledge responsibility, because I didn’t know any allegations had been made against Rushton.”

Holland admitted there was no formal structure to deal with child sexual abuse complaints during his episcopacy. They were dealt with on an ad hoc basis. In relation to Rushton and Brown fostering boys, Holland said he would have “assumed they were making – doing an act of mercy, to look after homeless boys … I trusted the priests to do their work because of the promises that they made to God.” He said he now accepts that Rushton’s prolific abuse did happen, but “only because I’ve watched some of the media and the media says that these things happened”.

As it is a crime not to report child sexual abuse, it is open to the royal commission to recommend “adverse findings” be made against a person and for the matter to be presented to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Before that, the royal commission makes an “available finding”, which witnesses and their lawyers have a chance to answer. In her written submission, released on 6 April, counsel assisting Sharp made a number of damning available findings against Holland regarding the veracity of his testimony, claiming that “His evidence should not be accepted.” Sharp found that Holland had been informed in 1980, by the assistant priest and his wife, “that Rushton had sexually abused their young son. Bishop Holland failed to take any action to report, risk manage or discipline Rushton once he was made aware of the allegations … [his] failure to act on the allegations between 1979 and 1980 was a lost opportunity to prevent further abuse being perpetrated by Rushton who the diocese has now acknowledged to be a prolific offender”.

Holland’s assistant bishop, Richard Appleby, also maintained he had no recollection of any child sexual abuse in the Newcastle diocese during his time there. At this point in the hearing, I concluded that a capacity for selective amnesia was a prerequisite for high office in the Anglican Church in Newcastle. According to Appleby, “The thing that I probably regret more than anything else is that I was not told back in those years of this abusive behaviour, in that had I been told, I would have been in a position to do something about it and I would have acted decisively, but I was not aware of it in those years.”

But Sharp pointed out that several people claim they did tell Appleby at different meetings with him. According to one former altar boy, Rushton’s abuse was an open secret among altar boys. They had a chant: “Arses against the wall, Rushton’s on the crawl.” Sharp makes a damning available finding about Holland and Appleby: “When able to ignore disclosures of allegations of sexual abuse, [they] chose to do so … When they were unable to ignore allegations [they] responded in a manner to protect the reputation of the diocese … By their acts and omissions, [they] enabled alleged or convicted perpetrators to continue working with access to children and without alerting other members of the clergy to the disclosed allegations.”

When Holland’s successor, Roger Herft, was bishop of Newcastle (1993–2005) there were many more chances to stop Rushton. On 25 November 1998, removalists shifting Rushton’s belongings from Maitland found child pornography in his possession along with a huge quantity of adult male pornography. Horrified, they refused to do any more of the job. The removalist company contacted the then Upper Hunter archdeacon, Colvin Ford, and he told Herft. Ford stated to the royal commission that there was enough porn to fill several wheelie bins. Another priest, David Simpson, chopped up the videos and burned them in large drums. Herft decided that Greg Hansen, Rushton’s solicitor and friend, should be dispatched to ask him whether any of it was child porn. Rushton denied it and threatened the diocese with legal action.

Herft accepted Rushton’s word. In regard to the stash of adult porn, Herft suggested that Rushton “consider a 30-day retreat in early 1999 … with a spiritual director … in reflecting on the deeper issues and shadows that enabled and encouraged the particular situation”. Rushton’s consideration of his “deeper issues and shadows” lasted all of one night. He returned to the parish and his paedophile activities continued unchecked. “I was deeply fooled,” Herft admitted to the royal commission.

Despite multiple complaints from 2002 to 2003, including one allegation that Rushton “had his own group of boys”, Herft did nothing to further investigate Rushton. Counsel assisting Sharp made the available finding that Herft accepted advice given in 1998 from the then deputy-chancellor of the diocese, Paul Rosser QC, “to avoid receiving disclosures of child sexual abuse in order to avoid putting himself in a situation where he was obliged to report the alleged conduct to the police”. Effectively, this meant “that Bishop Herft should remain wilfully blind to allegations of child sexual abuse”.

Sharp was savage about Herft in her submission. “His response was weak, ineffectual and showed no regard for the need to protect children from the risk that they would be preyed upon. It was a failure of leadership.”


Perpetrators need protectors, and in the Newcastle case such protection not only came from the higher echelons of the clergy. Some among the laity also provided support and protection, and in their behaviour one can see another, crucially important, kind of denial that Stanley Cohen calls “interpretive denial”. This form doesn’t dispute the facts but redescribes and reinterprets them so that they are normalised, minimised and rendered seemingly harmless.

Early in the morning on 12 February 1990, Assistant Bishop Appleby received an urgent phone call from Bishop Holland. There was a commotion at the rectory at Wyong, south of Newcastle. Holland wanted Appleby to demand the resignation of the Wyong priest, Father Stephen Hatley Gray. Appleby hotfooted it to Wyong and found holes punched through the walls. He demanded that Hatley Gray resign on the spot. He agreed.

Later that day, Hatley Gray was arrested for raping a 15-year-old boy between midnight and 4 am. A witness, who was a friend of the victim, alleged in his statement to police that he came into the church hall and saw the victim bent over with Hatley Gray anally penetrating him. The boy was begging, “It hurts, Father Gray, please stop.” Hatley Gray continued despite the boy’s repeated pleas. According to the witness, Hatley Gray had then let the victim go. The boy collapsed onto the floor, saying, “I feel sick.” He went to Gosford Hospital and was provided with a rape kit.

What happened in the aftermath of this crime, revealed at the royal commission, is extremely instructive about the role of the laity in the cover-ups in Newcastle. Among the exhibits presented to the royal commission were some explosive file notes written by John Cleary, the diocese’s business manager from 2007 to March 2017. Cleary is a recipient of the Lake Macquarie Citizen of the Year Award, for his work exposing child sexual abuse. The file notes are handwritten records of meetings that Cleary attended with diocesan council member and solicitor Keith Allen, which took place from 2013 to 2015. The records reveal moments of candour about clergy and child sexual abuse, which occurred well before Cleary’s time. Allen was one of the most powerful members of the laity, and was portrayed by Herft at the commission as a general church busybody with his finger in many church pies. Allen also had the ear of Appleby, and successive bishops Holland and Herft.

Allen was at the very centre of an “old guard”, a self-appointed group of protectors from the professional class in Newcastle’s civil society – lawyers, accountants, business people and politicians who seemed to gain social status and a sense of importance from their closeness to the diocese’s clergy. According to Cleary, Allen boasted at a meeting on 26 March 2015 that he had “big church connections”. Allen had also allegedly bragged that he “saved three priests from a fate worse than death” and that he made “no apologies for this” because he “protected his bishop and the diocese by doing this”.

There were even more startling revelations in a file note from 5 March 2013, when Allen purportedly told the meeting about all the other times Hatley Gray was known to have committed child sexual abuse. There was the occasion when he had sex with an underage boy on a rectory table full of lamingtons. Cleary reports “Mr Allen thought it was amusing to bring some lamingtons along to a meeting” about the matter. The same file note tells of how Hatley Gray met with underage boys under the railway bridge at Wyong, plied them with cigarettes and alcohol, and “things went on”. Cleary alleges that Allen mentioned five other clergy who knew of Hatley Gray’s behaviour, including Holland and Appleby. In other file notes, Allen is reported as mentioning other clergy who were believed to abuse children yet were never reported. There was the “hanky panky” group at Wallsend (Rushton’s parish at the time). Two priests were “Shevill’s boys”. This meant, Cleary took it, that the bishop of Newcastle from 1973 to 1977, Ian Shevill, had had a sexual relationship with them in the past.

In “interpretative denial”, language that minimises the gravity of an offence removes any imperative to take action. In Cleary’s file notes, one can see how Allen persistently used phrases from “boys will be boys” locker-room banter. The sexual abuse of a child is not a serious crime that requires immediate reporting to the police, but is “hanky panky”; priests abused by Shevill who now were abusers themselves, were merely “Shevill’s boys”; a paedophile priest is merely described as “a worry” because he had “too many little boys around him”; rather than call out a paedophile ring working together to commit child rape, according to Cleary’s account, Allen talked about “the Cessnock crew”. Such redescriptions, which are at the heart of interpretive denial, allow the refusal of empathy. The moral horror of what has happened to the victim is not registered. A grotesquely discordant response becomes possible. Thus it is not child rape but merely funny, having sex with a boy on a table of lamingtons. So Allen brings lamingtons to the meeting.

This sightlessness makes it unsurprising that covering up is regarded as fine. According to Cleary’s file note of 11 February 2015, “Allen spoke of Appleby as a ‘good operator’.” Cleary understood this “to mean that Appleby was good at covering up matters”. The protectors did not only reinterpret events to protect the church. As recorded in one of Cleary’s file notes, Keith Allen said he had falsified Hatley Gray’s resignation.

In a sensational day of evidence before the royal commission, Allen came under fierce cross-examination regarding the file notes, and admitted that he had “ripped up” Hatley Gray’s original resignation letter. Allen then got him to write another one, dated 11 February, the day before the crime. This meant Hatley Gray was still “in good standing” with his bishop at the time of his resignation and could go to another diocese.

McClellan: But the document on its face is false and will allow a false representation to be made, wouldn’t it?
Allen: Yes.
McClellan: You were party to the circumstances in which the false document was created, weren’t you?
Allen: Yes, I certainly destroyed the first resignation.
McClellan: … It looks like a fraud, doesn’t it? It is a false representation as to his status?
Allen: It could be described as that.

Counsel assisting Sharp described this as a “ruse” to protect Hatley Gray despite knowing he was “a dangerous sexual predator”. When Hatley Gray went before the District Court to answer the charge of rape, Allen defended him. Hatley Gray pleaded guilty and was given a three-year good behaviour bond and a $100 fine. As Sharp argued, this was a “very generous” result for raping a 15-year-old boy. Hatley Gray was then employed by the Willochra diocese in South Australia as a youth worker.

During Allen’s grilling in the witness box at the royal commission over his role in the cover-up of child sexual abuse, McClellan put it to him that “what you sought to defend was, do you accept now, indefensible?”

Allen: Probably indefensible.
McClellan: That was because it was a do-nothing and a cover-up and protect-the-church approach, wasn’t it?
Allen: That was a factor, sir.
McClellan: And you were part of that practice, weren’t you?
Allen: Yes.


The testimony of a Newcastle man (who gave evidence to the royal commission under the pseudonym CKA) goes to the heart of another kind of injustice done to survivors. In her investigation into knowledge and power, philosopher Miranda Fricker writes of what she calls “testimonial injustice”. This is where a wrong is done by undermining someone specifically in their capacity as a knower. “Prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word; as in the case where the police do not believe someone because he is black.” Or, as I will apply it here, where the testimony of a priest is preferred over that of a survivor. The priest is seen as a holy man. The lustre of power and the tincture of assumed virtue give him credibility. By contrast, the credibility of an adult survivor suffers precisely because their life has spiralled out of control as a result of the abuse, with substance abuse or family breakdown or psychological difficulties, or all of those things. In turn, the diminished credibility of the low-status survivor who threatens the hallowed priest’s reputation means they are able to be dismissed as a liar.

And so it was with CKA and Father George Parker. CKA was the son of a tradesman who helped with church maintenance and a devout mother who played the organ. He became an altar boy to please his mother. In his statement to the royal commission, CKA described Parker, then aged about 30, as a charismatic, guitar-strumming man with a good singing voice. Parker became a family friend, a frequent and honoured guest at their house for Sunday lunch. Sometimes Parker would be accompanied by Peter Rushton, the abuser of Paul Gray. Rushton often brought along with him an orphan boy from St Albans Boys’ Home.

CKA testified that his mother put Parker on a pedestal. “It was like she was as close to being with God as she could get.” When Parker began singling out CKA, she thought her boy seemed special, distinguished by all the attention Parker showed him. What she didn’t know was that, from the age of 10 to 14, over five years between 1971 and early 1975, her boy was sexually abused by this “model of goodness”. The abuse took place on a weekly or fortnightly basis, and escalated over time. It “consisted of groping, fondling, oral sex, digital and penile penetration”. CKA said that during the abuse Parker would whisper, “This is our special secret – remember how good a friend Father George is.”

Parker was bold. He often took CKA out of class on the pretext of needing an altar boy at a funeral service, abusing him on the trips. Rushton frequently accompanied them. At the Anglican church at The Entrance, south of Newcastle, another priest looked at CKA and laughed, saying to Parker, “It is not like you to share.” He thought it hilarious. CKA always remembered his laughter.

CKA testified that he felt unable to disclose the abuse at the time, because he knew that no one would believe his word against a revered priest’s. To a child such as CKA, the church seemed all-powerful. “I don’t expect laypeople to understand the power of the church and the fear this instilled in me about speaking out against its clergy.” When, in early 1975, Parker left the district to go to another parish, CKA felt utter relief. Parker was finally out of his life. But no. Parker requested that CKA and his younger brother serve as altar boys in the new parish. At the rectory, in separate incidents, Parker sexually abused both boys, unbeknown to each other, and attempted to rape CKA. Parker warned him not to tell anyone.

On the way home, CKA told his mother about the most recent abuse. His mother was horrified and believed him. CKA’s older brother testified at the royal commission that, soon after, his mother asked him to drive her to a handsome sandstone building, which he believed was the residence of the then bishop of Newcastle, Ian Shevill. She told him that “she had to see the bishop about something very important” and that she would “tell the bishop off”. A lowly, powerless housewife is well down the parish hierarchy, unlikely to have had the testimonial authority to impress a bishop. CKA’s mother came out of the meeting sobbing, hysterical, and unable to speak. CKA’s older brother concluded that Shevill had not believed her or had dismissed what she said. (We now know that Shevill was himself an abuser.) After this visit, Shevill took no action. Two years later, in 1977, CKA’s mother died suddenly. Despite her complaint, the Anglican Church arranged for Parker to give the eulogy. CKA was a pallbearer. He was so distressed by Parker’s presence he feared he would drop his mother’s coffin.

At the royal commission, CKA testified that in August 1984 he told the then assistant bishop, Richard Appleby, about being sexually abused by Parker. Appleby claimed to the commission he had “absolutely no recollection whatsoever” of this meeting. He had checked his diary “with great care”. There was “absolutely no entry showing CKA came to see him”. Later in the hearing, however, Appleby was recalled to explain himself. The royal commission had summonsed him to produce the diaries. They showed that CKA was right: there was an entry on 13 August 1984 with his name. Appleby professed himself to be “intensely embarrassed” by having missed it “among the thousand-odd small pages of entries”.

Tormented by the abuse, CKA’s life began to spiral. He had a breakdown at 20. In 1996, during Herft’s episcopacy, CKA made further complaints to what he thought was the Anglican helpline for child sexual abuse. He spoke to the dean of Newcastle’s diocese, Graeme Lawrence. CKA did not turn up to a proposed meeting, however, as he had been warned that Lawrence was “one of the bad ones”. In 1999, CKA’s marriage had broken down and he “needed help putting my life back together”. He phoned and once again encountered Lawrence, who coldly described CKA’s demeanour in the conversation that followed as “somewhat emotional”. Lawrence suggested another meeting with Herft and himself. CKA did not attend as he had lost trust in the church.

No action was undertaken by either Herft or Lawrence to investigate Parker or report this allegation to police. Lawrence wrote a letter to CKA on 22 January 1999 representing the diocese in response to his appeals. Herft admitted before the royal commission that this letter was “formal and legalistic, and lacked compassion”. No pastoral care was offered to CKA or his family. Counsel assisting Sharp’s “available finding” was that throughout this period Lawrence was “deliberately obstructive”.

In February 2000, CKA and his younger brother reported their abuse to the police. When the police made inquiries about Parker, Lawrence did not disclose Parker’s whereabouts. CKA was too traumatised and embarrassed to disclose the full extent of his abuse at the hands of Parker. He hoped that giving just one instance of abuse would be enough to convict Parker. So he told police only of the last time, when he attended the new parish on an overnight stay with Parker. At first CKA and his brother thought that abuse occurred in 1974, and said so at the committal hearing. Later they realised it was actually around the Easter of 1975. Given the crimes had taken place 26 years before, this was hardly surprising.

What happened at the trial of Parker in August 2001 is a telling example of how testimonial injustice can undermine the credibility of the survivor. The case was before Judge Ralph Coolahan, who had previously appeared as a lawyer on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle on another matter. When Coolahan learned about the date of the indictment being changed to 1975, he exploded at the Crown prosecutor: “These allegations are 26 years old. The fact that a fresh indictment is presented today is nothing short of a complete disgrace … The fact that someone is brought to trial, 26 years after an alleged offence, is in itself a disgrace, but to present [a different date] … makes it even more a disgrace. It makes the whole thing a real farce.”

When told the complainants’ ages – in their late 30s – Coolahan exploded once more. “So, they have waited 20 years since they attained their majority … well, that is just ridiculous. It is truly ridiculous.” Coolahan thought the amount of time passed undermined their credibility. (It is not “ridiculous” or a “disgrace” nor a “farce” for victims to take a long time to come forward. The average time Anglican survivors have taken to come forward is 29 years.) After fulminating on the survivors’ “disgrace”, Coolahan turned his attention to the accused priest. “There’s one person who seems to be forgotten during the whole of your argument and that’s the accused who sits here presumed to be innocent and has allegations made against him that are 26 years old and dates have been changed on the morning of the trial.”

Parker, however, had been anything but forgotten. Despite obvious conflicts of interest, he was defended by Keith Allen, the diocese’s solicitor, and Paul Rosser QC, then the diocese’s deputy chancellor. According to CKA, Parker was also supported at the trial by Graeme Lawrence, the man who received CKA’s confidential phone call. Peter Mitchell, the then diocesan registrar and a close friend of Parker (he was godfather to Mitchell’s children), provided a character reference.

As a senior diocesan official, Allen had a duty of protective care to vulnerable parishioners, such as complainants in a child sexual abuse case. As a lawyer, however, he had an obligation to use whatever legal means possible to defend his client. This is exactly what he did. Allen used his inside knowledge of how parishes work to obtain access to a register of priestly attendances at the parish. It emerged during cross-examination at the royal commission that Allen was left alone with this register for about 10 to 15 minutes. When it was produced during Parker’s trial without warning, it seemed to provide Parker with an alibi. The Crown’s case collapsed. Parker’s case was “no billed”, meaning it was withdrawn. But this is not an acquittal. A retrial is possible if sufficient evidence emerges. At the royal commission, evidence was presented showing that the registry had been altered on the dates when Parker’s abuse of CKA was alleged to have taken place, but on very few other pages. Mitchell also had unsupervised access to the registry. At the royal commission Allen and Mitchell both denied tampering with the register. In Sharp’s recent submission she concluded that ultimately there was insufficient evidence to make a finding on this matter.

At Parker’s trial, the transcribed confidential conversations between CKA and Lawrence revealing his mental health problems were used in evidence by Parker’s defence team. CKA wrote angrily to Herft, “the breach of confidentiality completed the betrayal and abandonment of myself by the church”. The story of betrayal, however, does not end here. Bishop Herft released a media statement wrongly claiming that Parker had been acquitted. Mitchell published an article in the 2001 October edition of Anglican Encounter, the church magazine, called ‘Confusion over False Action’. He wrote that:

[The] Crown did not have a case against George Parker and was heavily criticised by the judge … Parker is a free man, with no criminal record and many years of dedicated service to the church and the community behind him. While he cannot comprehend the actions of the complainants, he bears them no ill will.

From 1975 through to that trial in 2001, CKA faced the full might of the Anglican Church, undermining his credibility. CKA gave evidence that when the trial collapsed, he felt “exhausted and hopeless … my life was worth nothing to the church”. He found dealing with the church “as abusive as the sexual abuse itself”. At the royal commission, McClellan said to Allen, “What is being put to you is the perception, given you were a leading figure in the church, was that the church was prepared to say to people who come forward, ‘You’re lying’. Do you understand?”

Allen: Yes, I didn’t see it that way, but I can understand what counsel is saying.
McClellan: Can you see it that way today?
Allen: Today is a different world than 2000–2001 ...

Indeed it is.


There was a final twist in the tale of CKA. In 2010, Lawrence, the person CKA had approached for help, was himself defrocked as a child abuser. As CKA’s solicitor, Peter O’Brien, colourfully put it at the royal commission, Lawrence was “the fox guarding the hen house”. Lawrence faced allegations that from 1981 to 1985 he had sexually abused a teenage boy who was given the pseudonym CKH. CKH’s statement to the royal commission alleged that in 1980, Reverend Andrew Duncan performed oral sex on him. He was 14 years old. Duncan told CKH that Lawrence was “part of the family”. Duncan’s sexual abuse continued for six years. Lawrence admitted to the royal commission that he suspected what Duncan was doing, but did not report the matter to the bishop or police. Instead, according to CKH, when he was aged 16, Lawrence visited him at his family home, and placed CKH’s hand on his erect penis, telling him “you can have this at any time”. CKH’s testimony was that by the time he was 17, Lawrence abused him in group-sex sessions with his partner, Greg Goyette. Andrew Duncan was also defrocked, as was Bruce Hoare who had also participated in group sex with CKH. Reverend Graeme Sturt, who had watched, was suspended for five years. Goyette was permanently banned from teaching. Lawrence and Sturt mounted a Supreme Court challenge to the decision. By 2012, it had failed.

Despite a sullen, angry Lawrence stonewalling for two days at the royal commission, denying any sexual relationship ever occurred with CKH, the evidence was damning. Counsel assisting Sharp presented a number of sexually explicit letters and cards with pictures of naked men, and depicting sex acts, that either Lawrence or Goyette had sent to CKH. One card from Lawrence had a photo of a young man touching his erect penis. It had the caption, “Thank heavens for little BOYS! For LITTLE BOYS GET BIGGER EVERY DAY …” In Lawrence’s handwriting there is a message, “Now isn’t that true?! Enjoy the card. Thank Heavens! Much love G.” In another, Goyette thanks CKH for coming to visit them both and says, “In the meantime don’t forget to buy some K.Y & Lubafax & think of me relaxing into (!?) a similar position!!! Love and Prayer G xx.” Lawrence maintained it was all light-hearted, innocent fun, and not evidence of an ongoing sexual relationship. Sharp’s “available findings” asserted that the evidence showed Lawrence and Goyette did have a sexual relationship with CKH. Lawrence’s evidence was not credible, while CKH’s was.

The royal commission learned that the Lawrence case caused a great scandal in the diocese, which split it into two camps. A charismatic, socially dominant man, Lawrence was at the centre “of a significant power bloc” in Newcastle, with powerful friends in high places. The Lawrence brigade of supporters continued to believe him to be innocent and that his 2010 defrocking was an outrage. They wanted the then bishop of Newcastle, Brian Farran, who defrocked Lawrence, sacked. They complained to the Anglican Church’s Episcopal Standards Commission about Farran. Their complaint was not upheld. Then they helped fund Lawrence’s Supreme Court challenge to the defrocking. Newcastle’s current assistant bishop, Peter Stuart, described the group as “virulent … really harsh … I have never had to work with a group that is as difficult and as intractable and as hurtful as this group of people.”

Emotions find reasons. Throughout the royal commission, the survivors’ testimony unsettled an illusion-filled reality about a charismatic priest. Simply by telling the truth, the victims were perceived as radical disrupters of a sacred order, hackers of meaning, vandals in the House of God. Many worshippers clung to their belief in the priest and the church, which had given meaning to their world. They chose the stability of lies over the instability of truth.

During this struggle a new power bloc emerged, a pro-survivor group led by the then bishop of Newcastle, Greg Thompson. In 2015 he revealed his own sexual abuse as a youth at the hands of Bishop Ian Shevill. Thompson told the Newcastle Herald in July, just prior to the hearing, of priests having a “sense of self-entitlement” as if sex with children “was part of the role”. At the royal commission, on 24 November he revealed that the then canon, Eric Barker, had also abused him. He told the ABC’s 7.30, “What’s particularly distinctive about the story of abuse in this diocese is the habituated protection of perpetrators and the undermining of survivors as they came forward. It was like a religious protection racket.”

Thompson was motivated by “the indifference, the disbelief, the arrogance of people that diminish survivors, discount their story, and turn away from them; that triggers deep anger”. He went on a six-month listening tour in 2014 around the diocese. “I came away feeling there had been these crimes against children, and there was empathy for the perpetrators, but there was no empathy for the survivors.” That a bishop had a direct understanding of what survivors had experienced was something new, typifying the cultural revolution that was by now moving through the diocese. Having an authoritative, high-status bishop speak openly about his own sexual abuse validated the testimony of survivors. The language changed. Silenced “liars” became listened-to survivors. The do-nothing era was over. Bishops Farran and Thompson spent as much time apologising to victims as Holland, Appleby and Herft had previously spent covering up abuse.

This caused an ugly backlash. In outing Shevill as an abuser, Thompson had “besmirched” a former great. Backs were literally turned on him at the cathedral. What McClellan described as “co-ordinated opposition” was led by diocesan solicitor Robert Caddies, former lord mayor John McNaughton and his son Chris McNaughton, and other prominent lay-people. In a letter dated 13 April 2016, sent to both the archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, and to the royal commission, they described themselves as “senior professionals”, in other words people to be taken notice of. They complained that Thompson was unfit to be bishop. They cast doubt on his claims of being abused. They demanded to know why he had taken so long to disclose the abuse, and accused him of placing others at risk by taking so long to come forward.

By now, however, Thompson was operating under a new national church framework established by the Professional Standards Ordinance of 2005, a dull-sounding name for a radically new process. It established an automatic process of reporting child sexual abuse to police, and a clear code of conduct for clergy, which defined “examinable conduct”. It gave a Professional Standards Board, which was independent of the bishop, the power to investigate. It could make recommendations that the bishop remove a clergyman from Holy Orders. The new system was called “information based”, ensuring that clergy could not hide behind the need for a written complaint as a way of avoiding investigation.

Michael Elliott, the former policeman appointed in 2009 as director of the Newcastle diocese’s Professional Standards Board, was at the centre of the maelstrom. Elliott is a dour, blunt man. This belies his compassionate imagination for the survivor. He looks, thinks, speaks and investigates like a policeman. He is not in any moral confusion over the nature of child abuse: those who perpetrate it are criminals who do untold harm; the fact that they wear a priest’s robe is irrelevant.

The way Elliott was seen by the old guard is caught in an email from Chris McNaughton to Bishop Farran, where he described the actions of the Professional Standards Board as “evil”. Elliott told the royal commission that unknown church supporters had engaged in a campaign of intimidation and vandalism against him; threatening phone calls and texts, and screws put in his car tyres. His dog disappeared, never to return. He was forced to move three times. But Elliott was undaunted and continued his investigations while building up unparalleled relations of trust with survivors.


Elliott met CKA in 2009. He was one of the first people to genuinely listen to and believe him. From that point on CKA found him “extremely supportive”. In 2010, Elliott recommended to the then bishop, Farran, that he meet CKA and give him an apology. Farran told the royal commission that he was “deeply moved” by this meeting. “I felt contaminated, that I was a bishop … that this man and his family had been treated in such a terrible way … he had been so wronged.” In a December 2010 Anglican Encounter article and in media interviews, Farran said that CKA’s experience had been trivialised and his mistreatment needed to be acknowledged.

I wish to extend a sincere and public apology to him and his family for their situation and the trauma they have experienced … [CKA and his family] were treated inappropriately over an extended period of time by members of the Anglican church after he had reported he had been sexually abused as a child by a member of the church.

Last year, Herft, who was then the archbishop of Perth, also admitted at the royal commission that he and the church had “failed miserably in our response to CKA, in not providing pastoral care … I’ve become aware that the sacred trust that the people of this region placed upon me, I have let them down … I let them down badly.”

Shortly after the hearing, Herft resigned as archbishop of Perth.

On 23 December 2016, Newcastle Police reinstated the no-billed charges against Parker. There were 20 fresh charges of extensive, multiple and very serious sexual assaults against CKA and his brother, from when they were ten and eight, between 1971 and 1975. Parker died just three weeks later.

CKA told the ABC how disappointed he was that, after his epic battle against the Anglican Church, Parker had never been called to account. “I feel really cheated, I guess … You spend all that time and effort and heartache and it just ends like this … All I really expected was that I would get him charged for the vindication. For the Crown to recognise that what happened in 2001 was wrong and it needed to be addressed.”

Yet CKA was vindicated, by the royal commission. Philosopher Miranda Fricker talks about the importance in a democracy of being alert to instances of testimonial injustice and overturning them. On 6 April, counsel assisting Sharp in her available findings accepted CKA’s testimony over that of former bishops Holland and Herft, former assistant bishop Appleby, and the former dean of the cathedral, Lawrence, and over the laity involved in his case, including Keith Allen and Peter Mitchell.

CKA had battled for recognition of the wrongs he had suffered for more than 40 years. “If something is wrong, it’s wrong. You have just got to go on fighting.” His advice to other survivors was “Don’t ever give up.”

For support, call Lifeline 13 11 14.

About the author Anne Manne

Anne Manne is the author of Motherhood, the Quarterly Essay ‘Love & Money’ and the memoir So This Is Life. Her most recent book is The Life of I: The new culture of narcissism.

 
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