THE royal commission has heard about a 1998 incident in which a team of removalists was forced to pack up homosexual pornography – including some allegedly involving children – while its owner, Father Peter Rushton, stood by watching.
The incident echoes a similar situation examined in 2013 when the NSW special inquiry into the Catholic diocese of Maitland-Newcastle heard about a cache of gay pornography kept by subsequently disgraced priest Jim Fletcher at the church’s Lochinvar registry.
In the this matter, the commission heard that the Bishop at the time, Roger Herft, was told about the pornography, but that all that happened was that Rushton was sent on a spiritual retreat, which he attended for a single night.
A statement by the head of the removalist’s firm, John Farrager, was tendered to the commission, saying that he (Mr Farragher) was disappointed with the response of Bishop Herft, who seemed more concerned than anything about minimising any reputational damage to the church.
In his statement, Mr Farragher said he believed that an agreement had been reached in which the church would remove the child pornography before the move continued.
Mr Farragher’s statement says he was disappointed by the tone of Bishop Herft, who seemed more concerned than anything about reputational damage.
The evidence of Rushton’s pornographic horde was given by a former archdeacon, Colvin Ford, on the opening morning of the third day of the commission’s hearings into the Newcastle diocese of the Anglican church.
Mr Ford said he knew Rushton by reputation before he met him, saying his “rudeness, sharp tongue and gayness were well known”.
Mr Ford said he had heard Rushton held parties with lots of young men or teenagers hanging around his home.
He said on November 25, 1998, he received a “clearly distressed” phone call from Farragher’s human resources manager, Jim Jackson, to say his “pre-packers” had gone to the Maitland rectory to pick up Rushton’s belongings and found homosexual magazines, videos, posters and a book of child pornography.
“Jim said to me: ‘Our men are no angels but they were shocked by the material.,” Mr Ford said.
He said they were also upset that Rushton insist they pack the material while he watched. He did not seem concerned by their reluctance to do so.
Mr Ford said Mr Jackson subsequently clarified things by saying there was no child pornography but he said he believed there was.
He also told how another priest, Father David Simpson at Islington/Carrington, had been approached by Rushton about six to 12 months later, saying Rushton asked him to burn a large number of gay videos at Hamilton.
He said some covers were men and boys which I took to mean primary school age,” Mr Ford said.
He said there were hundreds of videos: so many it took a 44 gallon drum to burn them in the backyard of the Islington rectory.
Mr Ford said he complained formally to Bishop Herft and that Bishop Herft had obtained statements from Farragher’s men but that he never saw the statements.
“On reflection I think Bishop Herft should have defrocked Rushton after the pornography was found at the end of 1998,” Mr Ford said.
“I was very unhappy to hear his ashes were interred under the floor at St Luke’s Wallsend and I am glad they have now been removed. I wish I had known earlier what Rushton was doing.”
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