THE Bishop of Newcastle, New South Wales, the Rt Revd Greg Thompson, has publicly condemned his diocese’s previous handling of sexual-abuse cases, accusing former diocesan personnel of removing documents and covering up serial offending.
Speaking on a current-affairs programme on national television, Bishop Thompson said that “this is what ‘mates looking after mates’ looks like in the Church at times. And that is an appalling thing to say for a Christian person.”
He was joined by two senior diocesan officials on the programme, where they were described as whistleblowers. Both the diocese’s business manager and the director of professional standards said that death threats and vandalism had accompanied their exposure of the earlier cover-up of a paedophile ring involving clergy and lay people.
Bishop Thompson, who became Bishop of Newcastle in 2014, said that he was being criticised “because I am opening the cupboards and we’re finding the skeletons”. He also suggested that some Australian bishops were still part of the “old culture”, and were refusing to accept that it needed to be addressed.
The television programme has also suggested that a former Bishop of Newcastle in the 1970s, the late Ian Shevill, was himself an abuser, and that former bishops failed to take action against abusing clergy: Bishop Alfred Holland, who was Bishop of Newcastle from 1978 until his retirement in 1992; and his successor, the Most Revd Roger Herft, who is now the Archbishop of Perth. The diocese’s now closed theological college, St John’s, at Morpeth, has been named as the place where the abusive clergy were trained.
The Australian Primate, Archbishop Philip Freier of Melbourne, has issued a statement calling the allegations “shocking and distressing”. He has welcomed the “very complete examination” that the allegations will have at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse RCIRCSA) public hearing into the diocese of Newcastle next month.
He has also expressed “solidarity” with Bishop Thompson and his officers, “who have worked diligently to end the culture of abuse and silence within the diocese”.
Bishop Thompson is himself a survivor of sexual abuse in his diocese. He told the programme that he had been groomed and abused by Bishop Shevill when, as a young man, he was seeking selection for ordination in the ’70s. This meant that he was in a vulnerable position, he said.
“The offending affected me significantly, and it still does. It affects the way I see myself. But it’s also galvanised me not to turn a blind eye to these matters.”