Greg Goyette at the weekend. Picture: Ryan Osland
DAN BOX Crime reporter Sydney, AU
A former dean of Newcastle’s Anglican cathedral wrote a character reference for an alleged pedophile priest at the centre of a new police investigation, a royal commission has heard.
The reference was one of three provided by Graeme Lawrence for the criminal trials of alleged sex offenders within the NSW diocese, according to evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Mr Lawrence was himself later defrocked after having group sex with a teenager.
The former cathedral dean prepared the reference in about 2001, although the charges were ultimately “no-billed”, meaning prosecutors decided not to pursue the case.
The Newcastle diocese subsequently released a media statement falsely claiming that the priest, who cannot be named, had been acquitted, the commission has heard.
The priest moved to the Victorian diocese of Ballarat.
Sure, seems like all pedophile priests ended up in Ballarat.
Newcastle’s bishop at the time, Roger Herft, now the Archbishop of Perth, has told the commission he has “no recollection” of contacting the church in Ballarat to warn them the priest was an alleged child-sex offender.
“I accept, however, it was entirely within my power” to contact the bishop of Ballarat “about the allegations ... either before or after (the priest’s) trial”, Archbishop Herft said in a statement to the commission. Both Mr Lawrence and Archbishop Herft are expected to face cross-examination before the commission, which resumes its public inquiry into the Newcastle diocese today.
The Australian revealed in 2014 that police had launched a strike force, codenamed Arinya-2, to investigate alleged abuse of multiple victims within the region’s Anglican Church during the 1970s.
The commission has since heard the priest in question allegedly abused two altar boys over several years between 1971 and 1975. “The abuse took place at least fortnightly and escalated over time,” one of his victims has told the commission. The priest “abused me at our local church, the rectory where he lived, in his vehicle during travel, and at other churches in the parish”.
NSW police are now likely to lay fresh charges against the priest, the commission has heard, with lawyers for the state saying they expect he will face a second criminal trial.
As dean of the cathedral, Mr Lawrence worked closely with the priest and also provided character references for two other alleged abusers, Ian Barrack and Allan Kitchingman, the commission heard. Both were subsequently convicted of sexual offences.
Mr Lawrence was also a member of the “Gang of Three” senior church officials who protected another alleged pedophile priest, the commission has heard.
Both Mr Lawrence and former Newcastle archdeacon Bruce Hoare were defrocked, or removed from the priesthood, in 2012 after an internal investigation found they had taken part in a 1984 group sex session with a 19-year-old.
The teenage participant, who also cannot be named, has told the commission the incident was “the outcome of years of sexual grooming and abuse … by Lawrence”.
Evidence before the commission alleges Archbishop Herft was told at least three times that Mr Lawrence was sexually abusive, including of children, although he has told the commission he cannot recall this taking place.
A file note of a conversation last year between the current Newcastle bishop Greg Thompson and one of its former legal advisers, Keith Allan, has also been tendered to the commission.
“Allen advised that Graeme Lawrence would be a focus of the police and the royal commission and that Lawrence would ‘bring others down’,” this states.
Questioned about this during the commission, Mr Allen said: “I probably think words to that or similar to that may — would have been said.”