Child sex­ual abuse in the New­cas­tle Angli­can Church

The Monthly (Australia) - - NEWS - Anne Manne

Asur­vivor, Paul Gray, takes the stand. He has a gen­tle, sad face and a soft voice. As he reads his state­ment his head is down, his shoul­ders hunched. He speaks hes­i­tantly, and at times his voice breaks, or he ex­hales in a sigh. It is Au­gust 2016, and we are as­sem­bled in the New­cas­tle Court­house to hear the 42nd Case Study of the Royal Com­mis­sion into In­sti­tu­tional Re­sponses to Child Sex­ual Abuse. Paul Gray grew up dur­ing the 1960s in Cessnock, a coalmin­ing town in New South Wales’ Hunter Val­ley. There he at­tended the Angli­can church and Sun­day school. He be­came an al­tar boy and a mem­ber of the Church of Eng­land Boys’ So­ci­ety, which held out­door camps. His parish priest was Fa­ther Peter Rush­ton, a flam­boy­ant and charis­matic preacher with a dom­i­neer­ing per­son­al­ity and a sharp tongue. Rush­ton be­came Gray’s god­fa­ther, vis­it­ing his house reg­u­larly.

Gray tes­ti­fies that, when he was ten years old, he was anally raped by Rush­ton in the bed­room of the rectory. Un­til he was 14, he was raped on a weekly or fort­nightly ba­sis by Rush­ton, of­ten after he had de­liv­ered a church ser­vice. “Fa­ther Peter would cut my back with a small knife and smear my blood on my back … that was ac­tu­ally sym­bolic of the blood of Christ – as he con­tin­ued to anally rape me. After the sex­ual in­ter­course, he would clean my wound with white tow­els.”

On other oc­ca­sions Rush­ton would de­mand oral sex be per­formed while he was in church, dressed in his cler­i­cal robes. Once, Gray tes­ti­fied, a woman en­tered the vestry, “saw us and left im­me­di­ately … she sat in the con­gre­ga­tion and stared at me dur­ing the church ser­vice”. This woman did not re­port the mat­ter to the church or po­lice. It was Gray she stared at; not Rush­ton, the abus­ing priest.

One day, Gray was taken to Rush­ton’s house where he was raped. Then he was taken to a camp south of New­cas­tle called Yondaio where there were at least five men and an­other boy. At this point in his tes­ti­mony, Gray gasps and pauses, tears be­gin­ning to flow. The camp had been sold to par­ents as be­ing about boys hunt­ing wildlife with torches, all jolly and in­no­cent fun. In re­al­ity, the preda­tors were the priests. And the boys were their prey.

“I recall the men say­ing, ‘We are go­ing to get you.’ From my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence I knew this meant that they were go­ing to sex­u­ally abuse me. I was chased by two men to the edge of a cliff and I hid in the bushes. After I was dragged from the bushes, I was raped by the two men. While I was be­ing raped I could hear an­other boy scream­ing.”

Gray is now sob­bing openly. A sup­port per­son next to him min­is­ters to him ten­derly, giv­ing him wa­ter, sit­ting close, reach­ing out. The chief com­mis­sioner, Jus­tice Peter McClel­lan, leans over and gen­tly asks if Gray wants a re­cess or some­one else to read his state­ment.

GRAY: No, I need to read it. McCLEL­LAN: You want to read it. GRAY: No, I need to read it. McCLEL­LAN: Very well. GRAY: It’s im­por­tant to me. McCLEL­LAN: Yes, I un­der­stand.

So Gray keeps read­ing, his sobs grow­ing louder, his chest heav­ing, tears stream­ing down his cheeks. He is en­tirely lu­cid through all this. It is a keen­ing, a grief-filled lament flow­ing out into the world. Some­times he pauses, gath­ers strength and then reads on.

The worst thing, Gray says, was when Rush­ton took him to the Angli­can or­phan­age, St Al­bans Boys’ Home. He begged Rush­ton, “Don’t leave me here.” Rush­ton left him. He was led by three men to “what they called ‘the fuck­ing room’ where they took turns to rape me”. Rush­ton took Gray to St Al­bans re­peat­edly over the next 18 months.

“Some­times two or three men would visit me at the same time on the same day … [One of the care­tak­ers] would keep me quiet be­fore and after the abuse by beat­ing me, if I ever made any noise at all … on one oc­ca­sion there were be­tween six and eight men present. These men made me and five other boys lay face­down on beds … each of the men picked a boy and each of the boys were taken into dif­fer­ent rooms and abused.”

Gray is still sob­bing.

“Could I have a drink of wa­ter, please? I need five min­utes. Could I have five min­utes?”

After the short break, Gray re­lays how when Rush­ton’s pae­dophilia be­came pub­lic in 2009 it acted as a trig­ger and he be­gan suf­fer­ing flash­backs. “Since then, mem­o­ries of sex­ual abuse ex­pe­ri­ences have con­tin­ued to flood back to me.” Gray suf­fered a com­plete break­down. He was ad­mit­ted to psy­chi­atric hospi­tals on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, and has strug­gled with the trauma ever since.

Gray’s story has been cor­rob­o­rated by other men abused on the Yondaio camp and at St Al­bans. In 2009, the Angli­can Church of­fered a pub­lic apol­ogy by the then bishop, Brian Far­ran. Rush­ton was a se­rial pae­dophile, and part of a net­work in the Hunter Val­ley. He was the worst of the worst, psy­cho­pathic in his cru­elty.

When Gray fin­ishes his tes­ti­mony, he is done with his open, brave weep­ing. He asks if peo­ple would “abide” for a mo­ment of si­lence for all those who “could no longer face the strug­gle of car­ry­ing the scars of their child abuse an­other day and chose to end their suf­fer­ing by tak­ing their own lives”. McClel­lan agrees.

The court­room falls silent.

The Royal Com­mis­sion into In­sti­tu­tional Re­sponses to Child Sex­ual Abuse is unique. Es­tab­lished by Ju­lia Gil­lard in 2013, by the time it de­liv­ers its fi­nal re­port on 15 De­cem­ber this year, it will have been the longestrun­ning, and most thor­ough, in­ves­ti­ga­tion of its kind any­where. There is tremen­dous in­ter­est in it world­wide. There have been other in­quiries, in the United King­dom, Ire­land, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, but none has been so com­pre­hen­sive, de­tailed and re­morse­lessly foren­sic in its in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The royal com­mis­sion has ex­am­ined al­le­ga­tions that the sex­ual abuse of chil­dren oc­curred at more than 4000 in­sti­tu­tions across Aus­tralia. There have been 6500 pri­vate ses­sions with peo­ple who came for­ward about their abuse, with 2000 more re­main­ing to be heard. By De­cem­ber, the royal com­mis­sion will have sat for 440 days of pub­lic hear­ings, and heard ev­i­dence from more than 1200 wit­nesses. The ad­van­tage of a royal com­mis­sion lies not only in its scope but also in its abil­ity to com­pul­so­rily sum­mons in­di­vid­u­als, and to cross-ex­am­ine wit­nesses under oath. By De­cem­ber, it will have ex­am­ined more than 1.2 mil­lion sub­poe­naed doc­u­ments.

The royal com­mis­sion is re­mark­able in an­other way. It is both re­flec­tive of and a pow­er­ful con­trib­u­tor to a cul­tural revo­lu­tion that has ush­ered in a new sen­si­bil­ity about child sex­ual abuse. The old pro-per­pe­tra­tor regime in re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions – the cov­er­ing up, the pro­tect­ing of the churches’ hi­er­ar­chy and rep­u­ta­tion, the turn­ing of a blind eye to abusers while send­ing them to new par­ishes (and fresh vic­tims) – has been under in­tense and damn­ing scru­tiny. Per­pe­tra­tors and their pro­tec­tors are be­ing called to ac­count. The shameful record of dis­be­liev­ing and si­lenc­ing vic­tims, and of put­ting the churches’ wealth into dis­cred­it­ing them in court, has been ex­posed. The na­tional mood has shifted de­ci­sively in favour of be­liev­ing, lis­ten­ing to and re­spect­ing the suf­fer­ing of sur­vivors.

In his 2013 open­ing ad­dress, Jus­tice McClel­lan said that bear­ing wit­ness to sur­vivors would be a large part of the com­mis­sion’s role. That was ev­i­denced by how re­spect­fully Gray’s pain was re­ceived by those lis­ten­ing. By the time of the fi­nal hear­ing on 27 March this year, many sur­vivors paid trib­ute to McClel­lan. He has been an out­stand­ing chair. Fair-minded and prodi­giously hard­work­ing, McClel­lan is a plain-speak­ing man who does not gen­u­flect to­wards pow­er­ful, high-sta­tus clergy. He has acute moral judge­ment, and is quick to pounce on the dis­sem­bling, the self-de­cep­tion,

the ob­fus­ca­tion, the fudg­ing with eu­phemism, and the plain old-fash­ioned ly­ing. The philoso­pher Rai­mond Gaita has writ­ten of the need for wrong­do­ers to be drawn to “a se­ri­ous, lu­cid re­spon­sive­ness to the moral sig­nif­i­cance” of what they have done. McClel­lan re­peat­edly did this by pre­sent­ing the per­pe­tra­tor or pro­tec­tor with their ac­tions in sim­ple, stark terms.

Most im­por­tant, how­ever, in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion with so much raw hu­man suf­fer­ing, has been the kind­ness and em­pa­thy that McClel­lan dis­played to sur­vivors. Ac­cord­ing to Leonie Sheedy from the Care Leavers Aus­trala­sia Net­work (CLAN), McClel­lan “gets it”. She is scep­ti­cal of any­one wear­ing the man­tle of au­thor­ity and was sus­pi­cious of McClel­lan at first, yet when he came to a CLAN meet­ing held in a garage, sat down and asked ev­ery­one to call him Peter, and then lis­tened at­ten­tively all af­ter­noon to sur­vivors, Sheedy was im­pressed. She be­came more hope­ful. She gave him a cush­ion that she found in an op shop, em­bla­zoned with the logo of his beloved Melbourne Foot­ball Club. At one of the hear­ings Sheedy re­alised McClel­lan was sit­ting on it. He takes it to ev­ery hear­ing.

For good rea­son, a great deal of the royal com­mis­sion’s fo­cus has been on the largest de­nom­i­na­tion in Aus­tralia, the Catholic Church (rep­re­sent­ing 46% of church­go­ers). It had more than 2000 al­leged abusers (more than any other in­sti­tu­tion) and 4444 al­le­ga­tions of child sex­ual abuse. The Angli­can Church is the third-largest de­nom­i­na­tion (11% of church­go­ers) yet has faced more than 1000 com­plaints of child sex­ual abuse. Be­tween 1980 and 2015, the Catholic Church paid out $280 mil­lion to sur­vivors. Dur­ing the same pe­riod the Angli­cans paid just over $34 mil­lion. All but one of the Angli­can dio­ce­ses across Aus­tralia had com­plaints in the past 35 years. One of the very worst was New­cas­tle.

The royal com­mis­sion had come to New­cas­tle to ask: who knew about the abuse, when did they know it, and what did they do?

In his prob­ing study States of De­nial: Know­ing about Atroc­i­ties and Suf­fer­ing, Stan­ley Co­hen writes about the kinds of de­nial that al­low both per­pe­tra­tors and their pro­tec­tors to evade truth­ful recog­ni­tion of what has oc­curred and to avoid tak­ing ac­tion. The first form, lit­eral de­nial, is very direct. It sim­ply says “It did not hap­pen” or “The per­son is ly­ing” or “I have no rec­ol­lec­tion” or (a fre­quent way of jus­ti­fy­ing in­ac­tion) “I didn’t know; I wasn’t told”. This type was seen so of­ten in New­cas­tle.

There were plenty of red flags about Fa­ther Rush­ton. Al­fred Hol­land, New­cas­tle’s bishop from 1978 to 1992, had seven warn­ings about Rush­ton’s of­fend­ing in just two years. In 1979 a parish­ioner, Suzan As­lin, warned Pro­fes­sor David Frost, her aca­demic teacher and a mem­ber of New­cas­tle’s Angli­can synod, that Rush­ton and his lover, lay preacher Jim Brown, were go­ing on a sex tour of Europe. Brown, who was later con­victed and im­pris­oned for 20 years for se­ri­ous crimes of child sex­ual abuse, had groomed one of her sons. As­lin asked Frost to tell Hol­land. Frost told the royal com­mis­sion that he con­tacted Hol­land, who asked him “to leave the mat­ter en­tirely with me”. Ac­cord­ing to As­lin’s ev­i­dence, Hol­land rang her some time later and pro­nounced him­self “ap­palled” by what she had told Frost. But Hol­land did noth­ing.

In an­other in­stance, in 1980, an as­sis­tant priest’s son, aged four or five, told his mother that Rush­ton had mas­tur­bated in front of him. The mother tes­ti­fied that Hol­land did not be­lieve the fam­ily’s ac­cu­sa­tion, and was “dis­mis­sive”. Rush­ton came to the door of the fam­ily’s home “in a rage” and “threat­ened to sue”. After the com­plaint to Hol­land, the as­sis­tant priest’s wife felt a sub­tle but de­ci­sive shift in the at­ti­tude to­wards them, that some­how they had been side­lined. Hol­land later told the as­sis­tant priest that “there was no room for him in the dio­cese”. His wife re­ceived a let­ter from the dio­cese’s law firm, de­mand­ing that she stop talk­ing about the abuse.

Sev­eral other wit­nesses gave ev­i­dence to the royal com­mis­sion con­firm­ing this ac­count. A parish­ioner, Pamela Wil­son, was told by the as­sis­tant priest’s wife that “she had found her lit­tle boy, ly­ing in a ball in his bed cry­ing … he told her what­ever he could that Rush­ton had done to him”. Rush­ton threat­ened Wil­son with defama­tion, fright­en­ing her off telling the bishop. Three other parish­ioners gave cor­rob­o­rat­ing ev­i­dence that they were told about the abuse. Two of them at­tended a meet­ing with Hol­land. Hol­land did noth­ing. In­stead, in 1983, he gave Rush­ton a pro­mo­tion.

Hol­land, now in his 90s, gave ev­i­dence to the royal com­mis­sion via video link, with his head bowed. After hear­ing Gray’s tes­ti­mony it was pain­ful to lis­ten when Hol­land praised Rush­ton as a very pop­u­lar priest: busy, well or­gan­ised and well re­spected. He claimed he was not aware that Rush­ton fos­tered boys. He was not aware of any al­le­ga­tions about Rush­ton, nor aware of boys liv­ing with him. Hol­land said he had “no rec­ol­lec­tion” of ever be­ing told of any child sex­ual abuse dur­ing his time at New­cas­tle. Had he been told, he would have acted de­ci­sively, bring­ing the par­ties to­gether. This showed how con­fused he was. Child sex­ual abuse is never a con­cil­i­a­tion mat­ter but a crime for which the po­lice must be no­ti­fied. Hol­land de­nied ever be­ing told about the as­sis­tant priest’s son be­ing abused by Rush­ton. He said he had “no rec­ol­lec­tion” of meet­ing with or talk­ing to David Frost, Suzan As­lin, the as­sis­tant priest and his wife, or the other parish­ioners. “Is it your tes­ti­mony,” coun­sel as­sist­ing Naomi Sharp asked in her dul­cet tones, that it was “a fig­ment of Ms As­lin’s imag­i­na­tion? … Bishop Hol­land, are you telling me the truth in an­swer to my ques­tions?”

“Yes I am,” he replied.

McClel­lan in­ter­vened. “You were CEO of the dio­cese and li­censed [Rush­ton] to do his crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties. Do you ac­knowl­edge any re­spon­si­bil­ity?”

Hol­land said no.

McClel­lan asked Hol­land, “Do you ac­cept any re­spon­si­bil­ity in hav­ing failed to ex­er­cise your management re­spon­si­bil­i­ties ef­fec­tively?”

Hol­land replied, “I don’t ac­knowl­edge re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­cause I didn’t know any al­le­ga­tions had been made against Rush­ton.”

Hol­land ad­mit­ted there was no for­mal struc­ture to deal with child sex­ual abuse com­plaints dur­ing his epis­co­pacy. They were dealt with on an ad hoc ba­sis. In re­la­tion to Rush­ton and Brown fos­ter­ing boys, Hol­land said he would have “as­sumed they were mak­ing – do­ing an act of mercy, to look after home­less boys … I trusted the priests to do their work be­cause of the prom­ises that they made to God.” He said he now ac­cepts that Rush­ton’s pro­lific abuse did hap­pen, but “only be­cause I’ve watched some of the me­dia and the me­dia says that these things hap­pened”.

As it is a crime not to re­port child sex­ual abuse, it is open to the royal com­mis­sion to rec­om­mend “ad­verse find­ings” be made against a per­son and for the mat­ter to be pre­sented to the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Prose­cu­tions. Be­fore that, the royal com­mis­sion makes an “avail­able find­ing”, which wit­nesses and their lawyers have a chance to an­swer. In her writ­ten sub­mis­sion, re­leased on 6 April, coun­sel as­sist­ing Sharp made a num­ber of damn­ing avail­able find­ings against Hol­land re­gard­ing the ve­rac­ity of his tes­ti­mony, claim­ing that “His ev­i­dence should not be ac­cepted.” Sharp found that Hol­land had been in­formed in 1980, by the as­sis­tant priest and his wife, “that Rush­ton had sex­u­ally abused their young son. Bishop Hol­land failed to take any ac­tion to re­port, risk man­age or discipline Rush­ton once he was made aware of the al­le­ga­tions … [his] fail­ure to act on the al­le­ga­tions be­tween 1979 and 1980 was a lost op­por­tu­nity to pre­vent fur­ther abuse be­ing per­pe­trated by Rush­ton who the dio­cese has now ac­knowl­edged to be a pro­lific of­fender”.

Hol­land’s as­sis­tant bishop, Richard Ap­pleby, also main­tained he had no rec­ol­lec­tion of any child sex­ual abuse in the New­cas­tle dio­cese dur­ing his time there. At this point in the hear­ing, I con­cluded that a ca­pac­ity for se­lec­tive am­ne­sia was a pre­req­ui­site for high of­fice in the Angli­can Church in New­cas­tle. Ac­cord­ing to Ap­pleby, “The thing that I prob­a­bly re­gret more than any­thing else is that I was not told back in those years of this abu­sive be­hav­iour, in that had I been told, I would have been in a po­si­tion to do some­thing about it and I would have acted de­ci­sively, but I was not aware of it in those years.”

But Sharp pointed out that sev­eral peo­ple claim they did tell Ap­pleby at dif­fer­ent meet­ings with him. Ac­cord­ing to one for­mer al­tar boy, Rush­ton’s abuse was an open se­cret among al­tar boys. They had a chant: “Ar­ses against the wall, Rush­ton’s on the crawl.” Sharp makes a damn­ing avail­able find­ing about Hol­land and Ap­pleby: “When able to ig­nore dis­clo­sures of al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse, [they] chose to do so … When they were un­able to ig­nore al­le­ga­tions [they] re­sponded in a man­ner to pro­tect the rep­u­ta­tion of the dio­cese … By their acts and omis­sions, [they] en­abled al­leged or con­victed per­pe­tra­tors to con­tinue work­ing with ac­cess to chil­dren and with­out alert­ing other mem­bers of the clergy to the dis­closed al­le­ga­tions.”

When Hol­land’s suc­ces­sor, Roger Herft, was bishop of New­cas­tle (1993–2005) there were many more chances to stop Rush­ton. On 25 Novem­ber 1998, re­moval­ists shift­ing Rush­ton’s be­long­ings from Mait­land found child pornog­ra­phy in his pos­ses­sion along with a huge quan­tity of adult male pornog­ra­phy. Hor­ri­fied, they re­fused to do any more of the job. The re­moval­ist com­pany con­tacted the then Up­per Hunter archdea­con, Colvin Ford, and he told Herft. Ford stated to the royal com­mis­sion that there was enough porn to fill sev­eral wheelie bins. An­other priest, David Simp­son, chopped up the videos and burned them in large drums. Herft de­cided that Greg Hansen, Rush­ton’s solic­i­tor and friend, should be dis­patched to ask him whether any of it was child porn. Rush­ton de­nied it and threat­ened the dio­cese with le­gal ac­tion.

Herft ac­cepted Rush­ton’s word. In re­gard to the stash of adult porn, Herft sug­gested that Rush­ton “con­sider a 30day re­treat in early 1999 … with a spir­i­tual di­rec­tor … in re­flect­ing on the deeper is­sues and shad­ows that en­abled and en­cour­aged the par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion”. Rush­ton’s con­sid­er­a­tion of his “deeper is­sues and shad­ows” lasted all of one night. He re­turned to the parish and his pae­dophile ac­tiv­i­ties con­tin­ued unchecked. “I was deeply fooled,” Herft ad­mit­ted to the royal com­mis­sion.

De­spite mul­ti­ple com­plaints from 2002 to 2003, in­clud­ing one al­le­ga­tion that Rush­ton “had his own group of boys”, Herft did noth­ing to fur­ther in­ves­ti­gate Rush­ton. Coun­sel as­sist­ing Sharp made the avail­able find­ing that Herft ac­cepted ad­vice given in 1998 from the then deputy-chan­cel­lor of the dio­cese, Paul Rosser QC, “to avoid re­ceiv­ing dis­clo­sures of child sex­ual abuse in or­der to avoid put­ting him­self in a sit­u­a­tion where he was obliged to re­port the al­leged con­duct to the po­lice”. Ef­fec­tively, this meant “that Bishop Herft should re­main wil­fully blind to al­le­ga­tions of child sex­ual abuse”.

Sharp was sav­age about Herft in her sub­mis­sion. “His re­sponse was weak, in­ef­fec­tual and showed no re­gard for the need to pro­tect chil­dren from the risk that they would be preyed upon. It was a fail­ure of lead­er­ship.”

Per­pe­tra­tors need pro­tec­tors, and in the New­cas­tle case such pro­tec­tion not only came from the higher ech­e­lons of the clergy. Some among the laity also pro­vided sup­port and pro­tec­tion, and in their be­hav­iour one can see an­other, cru­cially im­por­tant, kind of de­nial that Stan­ley Co­hen calls “in­ter­pre­tive de­nial”. This form doesn’t dis­pute the facts but re­describes and rein­ter­prets them so that they are nor­malised, min­imised and ren­dered seem­ingly harm­less.

Early in the morn­ing on 12 Fe­bru­ary 1990, As­sis­tant Bishop Ap­pleby re­ceived an ur­gent phone call from Bishop Hol­land. There was a com­mo­tion at the rectory at Wy­ong, south of New­cas­tle. Hol­land wanted Ap­pleby to de­mand the res­ig­na­tion of the Wy­ong priest, Fa­ther Stephen Hat­ley Gray. Ap­pleby hot­footed it to Wy­ong and found holes punched through the walls. He de­manded that Hat­ley Gray re­sign on the spot. He agreed.

Later that day, Hat­ley Gray was ar­rested for rap­ing a 15-year-old boy be­tween mid­night and 4 am. A wit­ness, who was a friend of the vic­tim, al­leged in his state­ment to po­lice that he came into the church hall and saw the vic­tim bent over with Hat­ley Gray anally pen­e­trat­ing him. The boy was beg­ging, “It hurts, Fa­ther Gray, please stop.” Hat­ley Gray con­tin­ued de­spite the boy’s re­peated pleas. Ac­cord­ing to the wit­ness, Hat­ley Gray had then let the vic­tim go. The boy col­lapsed onto the floor, say­ing, “I feel sick.” He went to Gos­ford Hospi­tal and was pro­vided with a rape kit.

What hap­pened in the af­ter­math of this crime, re­vealed at the royal com­mis­sion, is ex­tremely in­struc­tive about the role of the laity in the cover-ups in New­cas­tle. Among the ex­hibits pre­sented to the royal com­mis­sion were some ex­plo­sive file notes writ­ten by John Cleary, the dio­cese’s busi­ness man­ager from 2007 to March 2017. Cleary is a re­cip­i­ent of the Lake Mac­quarie Cit­i­zen of the Year Award, for his work ex­pos­ing child sex­ual abuse. The file notes are hand­writ­ten records of meet­ings that Cleary at­tended with dioce­san coun­cil mem­ber and solic­i­tor Keith Allen, which took place from 2013 to 2015. The records re­veal mo­ments of can­dour about clergy and child sex­ual abuse, which oc­curred well be­fore Cleary’s time. Allen was one of the most pow­er­ful mem­bers of the laity, and was por­trayed by Herft at the com­mis­sion as a gen­eral church busy­body with his fin­ger in many church pies. Allen also had the ear of Ap­pleby, and suc­ces­sive bish­ops Hol­land and Herft.

Allen was at the very cen­tre of an “old guard”, a self­ap­pointed group of pro­tec­tors from the pro­fes­sional class in New­cas­tle’s civil so­ci­ety – lawyers, ac­coun­tants, busi­ness peo­ple and politi­cians who seemed to gain so­cial sta­tus and a sense of im­por­tance from their close­ness to the dio­cese’s clergy. Ac­cord­ing to Cleary, Allen boasted at a meet­ing on 26 March 2015 that he had “big church con­nec­tions”. Allen had also al­legedly bragged that he “saved three priests from a fate worse than death” and that he made “no apolo­gies for

this” be­cause he “pro­tected his bishop and the dio­cese by do­ing this”.

There were even more star­tling rev­e­la­tions in a file note from 5 March 2013, when Allen pur­port­edly told the meet­ing about all the other times Hat­ley Gray was known to have com­mit­ted child sex­ual abuse. There was the oc­ca­sion when he had sex with an un­der­age boy on a rectory ta­ble full of lam­ing­tons. Cleary re­ports “Mr Allen thought it was amus­ing to bring some lam­ing­tons along to a meet­ing” about the mat­ter. The same file note tells of how Hat­ley Gray met with un­der­age boys under the rail­way bridge at Wy­ong, plied them with cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol, and “things went on”. Cleary alleges that Allen men­tioned five other clergy who knew of Hat­ley Gray’s be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing Hol­land and Ap­pleby. In other file notes, Allen is re­ported as men­tion­ing other clergy who were be­lieved to abuse chil­dren yet were never re­ported. There was the “hanky panky” group at Wallsend (Rush­ton’s parish at the time). Two priests were “Shevill’s boys”. This meant, Cleary took it, that the bishop of New­cas­tle from 1973 to 1977, Ian Shevill, had had a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with them in the past.

In “in­ter­pre­ta­tive de­nial”, lan­guage that min­imises the grav­ity of an of­fence re­moves any im­per­a­tive to take ac­tion. In Cleary’s file notes, one can see how Allen per­sis­tently used phrases from “boys will be boys” locker-room ban­ter. The sex­ual abuse of a child is not a se­ri­ous crime that re­quires im­me­di­ate re­port­ing to the po­lice, but is “hanky panky”; priests abused by Shevill who now were abusers them­selves, were merely “Shevill’s boys”; a pae­dophile priest is merely de­scribed as “a worry” be­cause he had “too many lit­tle boys around him”; rather than call out a pae­dophile ring work­ing to­gether to com­mit child rape, ac­cord­ing to Cleary’s ac­count, Allen talked about “the Cessnock crew”. Such re­descrip­tions, which are at the heart of in­ter­pre­tive de­nial, al­low the re­fusal of em­pa­thy. The moral hor­ror of what has hap­pened to the vic­tim is not reg­is­tered. A grotesquely dis­cor­dant re­sponse be­comes pos­si­ble. Thus it is not child rape but merely funny, hav­ing sex with a boy on a ta­ble of lam­ing­tons. So Allen brings lam­ing­tons to the meet­ing.

This sight­less­ness makes it un­sur­pris­ing that cov­er­ing up is re­garded as fine. Ac­cord­ing to Cleary’s file note of 11 Fe­bru­ary 2015, “Allen spoke of Ap­pleby as a ‘good op­er­a­tor’.” Cleary un­der­stood this “to mean that Ap­pleby was good at cov­er­ing up mat­ters”. The pro­tec­tors did not only rein­ter­pret events to pro­tect the church. As recorded in one of Cleary’s file notes, Keith Allen said he had fal­si­fied Hat­ley Gray’s res­ig­na­tion.

In a sen­sa­tional day of ev­i­dence be­fore the royal com­mis­sion, Allen came under fierce cross-ex­am­i­na­tion re­gard­ing the file notes, and ad­mit­ted that he had “ripped up” Hat­ley Gray’s orig­i­nal res­ig­na­tion let­ter. Allen then got him to write an­other one, dated 11 Fe­bru­ary, the day be­fore the crime. This meant Hat­ley Gray was still “in good stand­ing” with his bishop at the time of his res­ig­na­tion and could go to an­other dio­cese.

McCLEL­LAN: But the doc­u­ment on its face is false and will al­low a false rep­re­sen­ta­tion to be made, wouldn’t it?


McCLEL­LAN: You were party to the cir­cum­stances in which the false doc­u­ment was cre­ated, weren’t you?

ALLEN: Yes, I cer­tainly de­stroyed the first res­ig­na­tion. McCLEL­LAN: … It looks like a fraud, doesn’t it? It is a false rep­re­sen­ta­tion as to his sta­tus?

ALLEN: It could be de­scribed as that.

Coun­sel as­sist­ing Sharp de­scribed this as a “ruse” to pro­tect Hat­ley Gray de­spite know­ing he was “a dan­ger­ous sex­ual preda­tor”. When Hat­ley Gray went be­fore the District Court to an­swer the charge of rape, Allen de­fended him. Hat­ley Gray pleaded guilty and was given a three-year good be­hav­iour bond and a $100 fine. As Sharp ar­gued, this was a “very gen­er­ous” re­sult for rap­ing a 15-year-old boy. Hat­ley Gray was then em­ployed by the Wil­lochra dio­cese in South Aus­tralia as a youth worker.

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