Australian bishop’s sentence of defrocking for abuse coverup overturned on appeal

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An appellate review panel has overturned the February 2019 ruling by the Professional Standards Board of the Diocese of Newcastle (Australia) recommending the retired assistant bishop of Newcastle, the Rt. Rev. Richard Appleby, be defrocked for having ignored credible allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

In a decision handed down at the end of August, the panel held the Newcastle Anglican professional standards board decision had been excessive, and the bishop had been denied procedural fairness.

It concluded the ruling had been reached by relying on information from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Newcastle Anglican case study, without allowing Bishop Appleby the opportunity to respond.

On 19 Feb 2019 the board found Bishop Appleby was “unfit permanently” to hold church office due to his inaction whilst service as assistant bishop of the diocese between 1983 and 1992.

“This board concludes, just as the royal commission did, that this respondent took no steps in relation to Father [George] Parker after being advised in 1984 of the allegations he had sexually abused a child many years earlier,” the board’s president Colin Elliott said. The Rev. George Parker died in 2017 at age 79, three weeks after he was charged with 24 child sex offenses against two young boys in the 1970s.

“I am satisfied that, because of the conduct found, the respondent is unfit permanently to hold any office. I recommend therefore, that he be deposed from holy orders and that, other than as a parishioner, he have no office or licence as a church worker,” Mr. Elliot wrote.

The review board accepted Bishop Appleby’s submission on appeal that he was denied procedural fairness because the underlying proceedings included consideration of his responses to allegations about another Anglican priest, which had not formed part of the complaint against him.

Addressing the diocese’s systematic failure to investigate child sexual abuse allegations in the lower court proceeding, when they were not elements of the specific complaints against Bishop Appleby, was unfair and tainted the findings, the appellate panel concluded.

But it rejected Bishop Appleby’s submission that he was fit to be employed by any church body without any conditions.

In a statement the curent bishop of Newcastle, the Rt. Rev. Peter Stuart confirmed the review board’s decision and its finding that Bishop Appleby should have conditions placed on the exercise of any future ministry.

“The Royal Commission found that Bishop Appleby failed to investigate allegations against George Parker. This finding was supported by the diocesan professional standards board,” Bishop Stuart said. “The diocesan professional standards review board has determined that the interests of the church and the community are served by Bishop Appleby being subject to restrictions in the exercise of any ministry.

“George Parker inflicted great harm and was subject to multiple charges prior to his death. His survivors have shown great courage in speaking of their experience. They are remarkable men.”

The review board returned the matter to the diocesan professional standards board which had the responsibility to recommend the conditions that should be placed on Bishop Appleby, Bishop Stuart said.

“I hope to receive those recommendations soon,” he said.

Born on 17 November 1940, Bishop Appleby was educated at the University of Melbourne and ordained in 1967. He served curacies in Glenroy and North Balwyn (Melbourne), before being appointed chaplain to the archbishop of Perth and warden of Wollaston College. Appointed rector of Belmont (Newcastle) in 1975, he became Dean of Bathurst in 1980, and was consecrated Assistant Bishop of Newcastle in 1983. In 1992 he was elected Bishop of the Northern Territory and retired in 1999.