The ABC reports…
“One of Australia’s most senior Anglicans, the Archbishop of Perth Roger Herft, has told a royal commission he would not report child sexual abuse allegations if he did not know the name of the alleged victim.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is holding public hearings in Newcastle.
The case study is examining the way the local Anglican diocese responded to allegations of child sexual abuse made against clergy and lay members of the church.
In giving evidence today, Archbishop Herft conceded the reporting mechanisms for dealing with child sexual abuse allegations were inadequate while he was the Bishop of Newcastle from 1993 to 2005.
“Did you understand you had an obligation to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police, regardless of your view of the merits of that allegation?” asked counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp.
“The answer would be yes. But, I think there were some conditions attached to it in terms of the process of complaint etc,” Archbishop Herft said.
“What details did you consider you required before you considered you had an obligation to report these allegations to the police?” she asked.
“One was the name of the complainants would have to be known. Certainly the name of the respondent would have to be known,” Archbishop Herft replied.
He said it was his understanding that police would not be able to take action if the complainant’s name was not known.
Archbishop Herft: “Yes, ma’am.”
The commission was shown a record from a meeting in 1998 between former Bishop Herft and other church officials.
It showed there was some concern that abuse allegations were not followed up unless a formal written complaint was given to the diocese.
“If the allegation was sexual abuse of a child, someone under 18, did you require a formal written complaint before the diocese would react in any way at all?” asked commission chair Justice Peter McClellan.
“I think that would be the position, you honour,” Archbishop Herft replied.
“That leaves children at risk. Do you think that was acceptable?” Justice McClellan asked.
“Totally unacceptable,” Archbishop Herft replied.
The commission was told Archbishop Herft wrote a policy in 1993 called “Principles and Procedures for Dealing with Accusations of Sexual Harassment”.
He agreed it was not prepared with child sexual abuse allegations in mind.
The commission heard there was nothing in the document about ensuring the Bishop was made aware of abuse complaints or about reporting allegations to police.
Archbishop Herft said: “Looking back on it, it’s a very naive approach … This particular document, looking back on it, did not take cognisance of child sexual abuse.”
Ms Sharp: “Is it right that, at least during the first half of your tenure as Bishop, there was really no framework at all for dealing with allegations of child sexual assault?”
Archbishop Herft: “I think that would be accurate ma’am.”
The commission also heard there were no steps in place to make sure the Bishop was told immediately about criminal allegations against priests.
“Yes,” Archbishop Herft replied.
The commission was also shown the diocese’s 2004 clergy code of conduct document, called Faithfulness in Ministry, which stated only “certain sexual behaviour constitutes child sexual abuse”.
Ms Sharp later asked the Archbishop: “I take it that you now agree that was not an appropriate policy framework for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse?”
“It certainly is not a way of dealing with child sexual abuse,” he replied.
Archbishop Herft said there was “tenseness about the relationship” he had with paedophile priest Peter Rushton.
Rushton worked across the diocese from 1963, but allegations of sexual abuse involving him only came to light after his death in 2007.
The commission heard Rushton thought Archbishop Herft’s hands were “tainted by having ordained women”.
“We had this rather awkward position that, for example, in Peter Rushton’s parish I would not be allowed to preside at the eucharist,” Archbishop Herft said.
Ms Sharp asked the Archbishop whether he “dropped the ball” when it came to dealing with Rushton and his years of child sexual abuse.
“I’ve asked myself a number of times why was I not more alert, why weren’t the people around me more alert? I struggle to find an answer for that.
“But, I agree with you, at that particular point of time I should have acted more effectively and well, and I did not.”
“How did you miss this?” Ms Sharp asked.
“I have no idea ma’am,” he replied.
“Even though you were aware of allegations that one of the most senior members of the clergy, that is Rushton, had sexually abused children, and you were made aware that there were about 30 cases in which child sexual abuse had been alleged, you did nothing to get to the bottom of what was going on in your diocese about child sexual abuse?” Ms Sharp asked.
The case study has previously heard evidence about a national “caveat list” of risky or problem priests, which aimed to warn other Bishops about employing them in their dioceses.
The commission heard the list was abandoned in 1985 on legal advice that it was “too risky to continue with it”.
Archbishop Herft said he had no knowledge of the list, but did say he had heard of a “black book” of “troublemaker” priests.
He said he could not recall ever seeing it, and said the book did not contain names of clergy alleged to have sexually abused children.
The public hearings in Newcastle have been adjourned until August 29 when Archbishop Herft is expected to continue giving evidence.”