The Diocese of Grafton’s priority in addressing child abuse claims was to minimize potential claims for compensation from victims and make the problem go away rather than seeing that justice was done, a Royal Commission investigating abuse has learned.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in Australia is expected to hand down a report that will accuse the Diocese of Grafton of withholding information from police and failing to exercise proper oversight of a church run children’s home.
Last month the counsel assisting the commission, Simeon Beckett, released a report stating the church’s “legalistic and cumbersome” clergy disciplinary process allowed priests accused of child abuse to escape punishment if they retired or left the ministry.
Mr. Beckett further stated that he believed the Diocese of Grafton’s first priority in addressing child abuse claims was to minimize potential claims for compensation from victims and make the problem go away rather than seeing that justice was done.
In his report Mr. Beckett said the former Bishop of Grafton, the Rt. Rev. Keith Slater, failed to refer allegations of sexual abuse at the North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore to the church’s professional standards director. This failure to act had prevented police from investigating the claims, he concluded.
The report further stated that while the diocesan registrar was aware that one priest associated with the home had been convicted of sexual offences against a child, he failed to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the sex offender clergyman.
The report recommended the diocese initiate an investigation into two priests accused of abuse and “regularly review” its clergy disciplinary proceedings and keep its professional standards director appraised of all outstanding claims of sexual abuse. Final submissions arising from the November public hearings into abuse at the home closed on 24 Jan 2014.
In May 2013 Bishop Slater resigned in the wake of charges he had mishandled the Lismore abuse investigations. Last August the diocese released a statement saying it “apologises unreservedly to children who, in the past, suffered from sexual abuse, harsh punishment or a lack of appropriate and nurturing care while resident at the North Coast Children’s Home, Lismore.
“We also apologise, and ask forgiveness, for the unacceptable manner in which those who in recent years reported their abuse were hindered by church leaders. Our Diocese acknowledges with sadness the serious and long term effects of such abuse. We are committed to assist in the provision of appropriate support and assistance for those who were harmed and who continue to suffer.”
First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.