Perth pays half a million in legal fees to defend embattled archbishop

Diocese paid $474,000 after insurers refused to cover the costs of Archbishop Roger Herft’s legal counsel before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Diocese of Perth spent almost $500,000 in legal fees defending its Archbishop, the Most Rev. Roger Herft, before the Roman Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse its clergy have learned.

The Western Advocate reported the priests of the diocese were informed last month by Diocesan Secretary Keith Stephens at a retreat in Margaret River the diocese had paid $474,000 towards the legal expenses of Archbishop Herft after the church’s insurers declined to cover the expenses, and the Diocese of Newcastle would only contribute $5000.

In her summation of the evidence published in April 2017, counsel to the Royal Commission, Naomi Sharp, stated Archbishop Herft had been “weak, ineffectual and showed no regard for the need to protect children from the risk that they would be preyed upon” and that he had “mishandled the allegations of child sexual abuse made against two of the most senior and domineering priests in the diocese”.

Payment was authorized by the Perth diocesan council and trustees but was not brought before Synod for approval. A spokesman told the Western Australian it was “generally known” around the diocese that money was being spent to support their archbishop, but conceded “stronger governance regarding this support by the passing of a specific resolution of the diocesan council and/or the Perth diocesan trustees should have been applied”.

A diocesan spokesman stated the council had assumed the legal expenses “relating to preparing for and attending the various public hearings” by Archbishop Herft in relation to his work as Bishop of Newcastle “would be recovered through a claim on the Diocese of Newcastle’s insurers. Subsequent investigations have concluded that such a claim is unlikely to be successful and, as such, will not be pursued.”

On 4 July 2017, a spokesman for the Diocese of Newcastle told the Newcastle Herald: “In May the diocesan council of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle advised the Synod of the extensive legal costs of participating in the Royal Commission. These costs include $5000 towards legal assistance for Archbishop Herft.”

“Our insurers advised that because of the type of policy, the diocese’s legal costs were not covered by them,” adding: “The Diocese of Newcastle has previously declined further assistance to Archbishop Herft.”

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