Image: Gregory Ezzy
Martin Drevikovsky, the General Secretary of the Anglican Church (known elsewhere as the Episcopalian Church or the Church of England) told the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse third “case study” hearings that right now there are hundreds of abuse investigations taking place nationwide. The Anglican Church set up a national register in 2004 designed to provide a database for information if a member of clergy had a complaint, or finding of abuse, established against them. Mr. Drevikovsky is responsible for the register.
He said that, when the Royal Commission was announced, every diocese was given directions to “search for (complaint) files and review them to ensure all necessary steps had been taken and if not, to take immediate action”. As a result, Mr Drevikovsky said, “a large number of files have come to light. In the case of Sydney it was 600. In the case of Melbourne I know it was hundreds.”
Mr. Drevikovsky’s register includes 129 clergy members who are currently listed as “persons of concern”, and up to 209 more are under investigation across the country. He told the enquiry the register was still incomplete, and expected that between 40 and 45, and “possibly more”, names would be added to the “persons of concern” register.
The revelation came during inquiries into the workings of the Church’s national register – an internal “red flag” system, which gives professional standards directors and bishops the ability to background check clergy members transferring from diocese to diocese.
Those listed have either been convicted of, or are under investigation for, criminal behaviour and in particular, child sex offending.
Earlier, Grafton/Newcastle Diocese Professional Standards Director, Michael Elliott, said at least four names of concern from the northern New South Wales state region had not been added to the register, including that of Allan Kitchingman, a former Lismore priest who was jailed in 2003 over the sexual assault of a teenage boy. Mr Elliott also confirmed that, along with the North Coast Children’s Home files, there were between 10 and 15 files involving allegations against members of the Grafton Diocese which had yet to be reviewed.
Mr. Elliott is one of the few officials who appeared to have some modicum of integrity.
In his letter, written in February, to the acting registrar of the diocese, tended to the enquiry, Mr Elliott wrote: “By virtue of their [the victims] complaints being so mishandled, the situation has resulted in the re-traumatizing of these victims. Furthermore, non-reporting to authorities may have put individuals at risk of criminal prosecution.” He would have, most likely, been referring to Slater and Comben (see previous postings).
The allegations against three alleged abusers at the North Coast Children’s Home, all Anglican priests, were reported to police in 2006, but the others were not passed on until Mr Elliott did so earlier this year. The commission has heard that another priest, Allan Kitchingman, had been found guilty of indecently assaulting a teenage boy in 1968, before being employed at the home, where he went on to abuse another teenager and was subsequently jailed for that offence.
Kitchingman’s name also appears on a confidential file note, prepared by Mr Elliott in May this year, and tendered to the commission as evidence. The note states that a person, whose name has been redacted, “admitted . . . falsifying the retirement date” of a priest “following his arrest and charging for child sex offences in order to avoid him being listed as a current member of clergy”. Asked about the separate matter of the diocese’s handling of alleged victims at the children’s home, Mr Elliott told the commission he “was very concerned at the way they had been treated”.
He conceded that, despite his urgings for safeguards to be put in place, “No steps have been taken to adopt practices with respect to those convicted of child sex abuse”. He told the enquiry that, as recently as “a few weeks ago”, the Newcastle Diocese had adopted “safe ministry practices” protocol for clergy members, but that the changes had not yet been applied to anyone, including Kitchingman. He also confirmed that due to administration issues, none of the people accused of abusing children at the North Coast Children’s Home had been listed on a national sex offenders register.
Mr Elliott told the commission his concerns about the Grafton Diocese’s response to allegations of abuse began when he first became involved in settlement negotiations between former Bishop Keith Slater and abuse victim Richard “Tommy” Campion. Mr Elliott wrote to Bishop Slater and expressed his concerns, but it wasn’t until earlier this year, when acting registrar Anne Hywood smuggled a pile of documents from the office and personally delivered them to Mr Elliott, that he became aware of further allegations of abuse.
He told the commission that after reading the files, he became so concerned that he was “compromising” his own integrity, and that the church was “retraumatising victims” and failing to pass on documents to authorities, that he drafted his resignation. At the time Mr Elliott, who was based at Newcastle, was required to provide assistance to Grafton “on a needs basis”. He said that, rather than ask for his help, former Bishop Slater “indicated the matter was being handled… and told me not to have any further contact with Mr Campion”.
After being urged by Grafton acting Registrar, Ms Hywood, to stay on, Mr Elliott agreed, but said he would need to be employed on a full-time basis, and required every document to be made available to him. He said that, by the time he got to speak with victims, one was so traumatized she was “on the brink of taking her own life”. He assured the enquiry that all files had since been handed to police.
Ms Hywood, who helped ex-Bishop Slater draft his resignation statement and press release, said her concerns did not end there.
With the knowledge a Royal Commission was looming, and at a time when the Grafton diocese was embroiled in controversy, ex-Bishop Slater chose Archdeacon Gregory Ezzy (pictured above) to act as administrator until a new bishop arrived. It was known among members of the Anglican hierarchy that, between 1985 and 1995, Mr Ezzy, during his time as rector of the Lismore Parish, had been chair of the North Coast Children’s Home management committee.
Ms Hywood was also aware Mr Ezzy’s wife had been superintendent of the Home for a period, and that her name was listed by one victim who complained of psychological abuse she had been subjected to as a child. She told the enquiry that she felt the perception would be “very bad” that the church had just lost a bishop through a “very controversial claim”, and that they were about to choose someone who had been involved in the running of the Home, as the temporary replacement.
Ms. Hywood was questioned extensively at the enquiry. She told of how she had become so concerned about the way in which ex-Bishop Slater, and then registrar and Clarence Valley City Councilor, Pat Comben, had handled allegations of sexual abuse at the Home, that she wrote to senior clergy members in Sydney. She believed the pair managed claims on their own for many years, without complying with the professional standards protocol, and had looked at the situation from a legal position rather than the obligation of the church.
She was also “not confident that everything that should have gone to police had gone to the police”. Her concerns were first raised, at the start of the year, after victim Richard ‘Tommy’ Campion was invited to meet Bishop Slater. Ms Hywood felt it was “unbalance and unfair” of Bishop Slater to have “a very senior legal representative” with him at the meeting, while Mr Campion was not allowed the same privilege.
Grafton diocese administrator, Archdeacon Greg Ezzy, told the enquiry that the diocese’s professional standards committee would “review each one of those in order to make sure that our protocols are treated with some integrity”. He said a new pastoral care and assistance scheme would be applied retrospectively to the 41 claims, so that the church could ensure “our protocols are treated with some integrity” and victims were being given the pastoral care they needed.
Nevertheless, Ezzy maintained that during his 10 years as chairman of the committee running the North Coast Children’s Home, he had never heard a “whisper” about child sexual abuse at the Home. He asserted that staff members there were also “traumatized” by the allegations and the “many people” who had “loved, supported and fundraised” for the Home had also been offered counseling by his church.
The current hearings were completed today. The next hearings will begin on 9th December. They will cover Australia’s only Catholic Church Cardinal, George Pell, and his now-discredited “Towards Healing” and “Melbourne Response” protocols for dealing with child sexual abuse allegations against his priests. Evidence by abuse victim, and lawyer, John Ellis (see previous posting), is likely to dominate the hearings.
[Postscript: Commission chairman, Peter McClellan, has announced that the enquiry will look into the appropriateness of guidelines for the sentencing of child sex offenders, during later hearings. It will also consider abolishing the statute of limitations for civil claims.]
Read more here:
TOMORROW: What Aspinall said and did not say
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)