RAPE AMONG THE LAMINGTONS
Child sexual abuse in the Newcastle Anglican Church
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.