MORE than 30 years of child sexual abuse and cover-ups by clergy and lay members of various Anglican parishes have been laid bare on the opening day of the royal commission’s two-week hearing into the Anglican diocese of Newcastle.
In her opening address, counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp outlined in forensic detail the allegations against various well-known church figures – some dead, one in jail and others thrown out of the church.
Some of the abuse took place at St Alban’s Home for Boys at Cessnock, which was run by the church.
A number of the clerics involved had all studied together at St John’s Theological College at Morpeth. Some went on to hold senior positions in a clique of power that centred on the city’s Christ Church Cathedral. And as Ms Sharp recounted, these same men were even made members of committees or other church bodies charged with overseeing the response to the child sexual abuse scandal when it finally arose to public controversy.
The first two witnesses – abuse survivors Paul Gray and Phillip D’Ammond – gave shocking first-hand accounts of the crimes detailed earlier in the day by the counsel assisting.
Mr Gray told the commission he had been abused for more than four years by Anglican priest Peter Rushton and others.
Rushton retired as Archdeacon of Maitland in 2001 and died in 2007 without any charges against him, although the diocese has since acknowledged him as a sex offender. It was this public acknowledgement that triggered Mr Gray’s repressed memories of abuse. He had a breakdown soon after, and has been in intermittent treatment ever since.
Mr Gray told the commission he had been anally raped by Rushton at the age of 10.
“On many of these occasions, Father Rushton would cut my back with a small knife and smear my blood on my back,” Mr Gray said. “That was actually symbolic of the blood of Christ. After sexual intercourse, he would clean my wounds with white towels. In the church, there were often occasions when Father Rushton would ask me to perform oral sex on him”.
Rushton was his godfather.
Mr Gray broke down twice giving his evidence – with the commission adjourning the second time for him to compose himself – but he told Commissioner Peter McClellan that he “had to” keep speaking.
He told how Rushton took him to St Alban’s boys home at Cessnock, where he was repeatedly raped by various men.
The second witness, Phillip D’Ammond had a similarly harrowing tale of abuse at the hands of lay church figure, James Michael Brown, who was convicted in 2011 of 27 charges of child sexual abuse involving 19 male victims and sentenced to 20 years’ jail, with 12 years non-parole.
Mr D’Ammond, who was fostered and subsequently placed at St Alban’s, said he was 13 years old when Brown – a “fat” and “intimidating ... six foot two tall” – first tried to have sex with him.
Mr D’Ammond, now 54, said he was confused and scared and believed that no-one would believe them if he told them what was happening.
Mr D’Ammond said Brown became a board member of St Alban’s in 1977, making him even bolder.
He said he was offered marijuana and LSD by Brown and that drug abuse later became a way of life.
Mr D’Ammond said he spent years in jail on various robbery, assault and violence charges, and had stayed in contact with Brown over the years, despite the abuse against him.
In 1996, he decided he had to stop Brown abusing boys and made a complaint to Newcastle police, but nothing eventuated.
He made further statements against Brown, and while one case went to committal stage, it was dismissed after “aggressive” defence by Brown’s barrister Paul Rosser QC, a senior lay church figure who is listed to give evidence to the commission.
Brown was finally convicted in 2011 and Mr D’Ammond says he received $210,000 in a cash settlement from the church, most of which went on heroin because he was given no support at the time after being clean of drugs for four years.
Outside the commission, Mr D’Ammond said he wanted money put towards a scientific examination of paedophilia and why people in positions of trust were so ready to abuse the people they were caring for.
Much of the controversy in the Hunter has centred on the way the formerly popular Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Graeme Lawrence, was removed from his post.
In her opening address, Ms Sharp said one section of evidence would hear from a survivor, given the psuedonym CKH, who would tell of his sexual experiences with various church figures including Andrew Duncan, Bruce Hoare, Graham Sturt and Lawrence. Ms Sharp said CKH would say he was 14 when Reverend Andrew Duncan first performed oral sex on him and that sexual relations with these men – including an occasion of group sex in a Narrandera motel room in February 1984 – continued for some years.
The hearings in Newcastle’s new $90 million court house are scheduled to finish on August 12.