The Australian reports…
“The Anglican Archbishop of Perth has told a royal commission he was repeatedly warned that senior priests might be sexually abusing children, yet did not report this to the police, potentially leaving other youngsters at risk.
Archbishop Roger Herft told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse yesterday that evidence he had previously given under oath denying any knowledge of one of those alleged child abusers was “incorrect”.
His frank admissions, which relate to his time as bishop of Newcastle in NSW during the 1990s and early 2000s, have raised questions about whether he will continue as head of the church in Western Australia.
The administrator of the Perth diocese, Braden Short, yesterday told The Australian the archbishop was on leave until October, but was expected to make a public statement when he finished giving evidence to the commission.
“He’s our archbishop and will remain archbishop until such time as he decides to do otherwise,” Archdeacon Short said.
A spokesman for Archbishop Philip Freier, the national primate, said he would wait for the commission to report before making any comment on whether Archbishop Herft should return to his position.
Under questioning at the commission yesterday, Archbishop Herft accepted that the evidence showed he was told on three occasions during the late 1990s that the Newcastle Cathedral dean, Graeme Lawrence, was a sexual abuser, including of children.
Archbishop Herft accepted the evidence showed he asked Mr Lawrence about each of the allegations and that the dean denied them, although no records of the conversations existed. The archbishop said he had no memory of the conversations about or with Mr Lawrence taking place.
His testimony yesterday contrasted with evidence given under oath during a previous royal commission hearing in 2013. “When I became bishop of Newcastle in 1993 through to 2005, no one ever raised with me either directly or indirectly any matter that would have brought concern to me regarding the behaviour or otherwise of the dean of Newcastle,” Archbishop Herft said at the time.
“That particular statement of mine is not correct,” he told the commission yesterday.
The archbishop said he did not pass to police the allegations against Mr Lawrence, though the dean was also the chaplain of a local school at the time.
Documents before the commission show Archbishop Herft told a 2010 internal church investigation that children “would have been at risk even if there was a slightest tinge of evidence linking Reverend Graeme Lawrence to the abuse of minors”.
Commission chair Peter McLellan asked yesterday: “At the levels of recording and dealing with the problem, you failed didn’t you?” “Yes,” replied Archbishop Herft.
The commission heard he was warned three times between 1998 and 2003 that another priest, the late Peter Rushton, had child pornography and might be a sexual offender. No report was passed to police.
“Looking back on the whole matter, given what I now know about the horrific abuse perpetrated by Peter Rushton, there would have been … alarm bells ringing that he be brought to the attention of the police,” said the archbishop. “Do you accept responsibility for the fact it was not reported to the police?” asked counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp. “Yes I do,” he replied.
Ms Sharp questioned the archbishop over another report he received during the 1990s alleging that young people staying overnight with a Newcastle priest could be at risk.
“Did you take any steps to follow that up?” she asked. “No I did not,” Archbishop Herft replied.
“Is it possible that it left in the diocese a person who was a risk to children?” Ms Sharp asked “Yes it did,” he replied.
In 1998, the diocese received a report alleging the priest had assaulted an altar girl, the commission heard.
During his time in the Newcastle diocese, Archbishop Herft said, some allegations of abuse by priests were passed to police, although he could not say how many.
He said his understanding of the issue also changed over time, and the commission heard that in 2004 at least two allegations of sexual crimes by priests were referred to the authorities.
Archbishop Herft left the diocese for Perth the following year.”