Board recommends bishop be defrocked for ignoring child abuse


The Professional Standards Board of the Diocese of Newcastle (Australia) has recommended retired assistant bishop the Rt. Rev. Richard Appleby be defrocked for having ignored credible allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

On 19 Feb 2019 the board released its findings, holding 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.

“After this time, Father Parker remained licensed as a priest in the diocese until February, 1996.

“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.”

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.

The board further noted Bishop Appleby had denied any knowledge of sexual abuse committed by Fr. Stephen Hartley-Gray, even though he had been directed by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt. Rev. Alfred Holland, to visit his parish and ask Hartley-Gray to resign in light of a “serious disturbance”.

“Given his then classification as Assistant Bishop, one might have expected that he would have been even slightly inquisitive as to the nature of the so-called ‘serious disturbance’,” Mr Elliott said.

“A reasonable and objective bystander … would be entitled to conclude that the respondent was, at best, willfully blind to the reasons why that resignation was sought … or, at worst, untruthful.

“This is the type of conduct that did nothing to prevent the cover-up culture that, sadly, prevailed in this diocese at that time.”

Under Australian canon law, Bishop Appleby has 28 days to appeal the finding.  The 78 year old bishop’s attorney told the Australian media he was waiting for instructions from his client on an appeal.

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.