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New South Wales bishop criticised in abuse report

23 October 2020


The Rt Revd Roger Herft, pictured in 2016, after being called as a witness at the Child abuse Royal Commission at Newcastle Court

The Rt Revd Roger Herft, pictured in 2016, after being called as a witness at the Child abuse Royal Commission at Newcastle Court

THE Rt Revd Roger Herft, a former Bishop of Newcastle, New South Wales, who later became Archbishop of Perth, has been accused of “failure of leadership” by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

His approach to allegations of child sexual abuse (News, 8 February 2019) was “generally avoidant rather than proactive”, although such abuse was a significant problem in Newcastle diocese by the time he became its Bishop, the Commission has said in a recently released report on the diocese.

Bishop Herft “mishandled the allegations of child sexual abuse made against two of the most senior and domineering priests in the Diocese”, the report says. His response “was weak and ineffectual and showed no regard for the need to protect children from the risk that they could be preyed upon.”

The Commission’s unredacted report on Newcastle has been released now that one of its senior priests, the former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence has decided not to appeal against his conviction for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in 1991. He has been deposed from holy orders and is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence. The other senior priest referred to was Peter Rushton, a former archdeacon, who died in 2007 without having been charged.

The Commission found that, on three separate occasions, Bishop Herft was “made aware of allegations that Mr Lawrence had sexually abused children”. The Commission rejected Bishop Herft’s evidence that he had no recollection of the allegations.

The Commission’s report concludes that it seems “extraordinary” that “the bishop of a diocese would have no recollection whatsoever of numerous people making allegations to him over a number of years that one of the most senior priests and powerful figures in the Diocese — the dean — had sexually abused children”. It notes that he did not take any further action in relation to the allegations; he did not report them to the police or institute an investigation.

Bishop Herft was translated to Newcastle in 1993 from Waikato, New Zealand, where he had been Bishop since 1986. In 2005, he became Archbishop of Perth. He stood down as in 2016 while the Royal Commission was examining Newcastle diocese, and subsequently resigned.

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