Churches knew of allegations against notorious paedophile priests, says royal commission

The Anglican and Catholic churches knew about allegations against notorious paedophile priests years before they were convicted and jailed for child sexual abuse, missing crucial opportunities to stop them from abusing other children.

The findings were outlined in two unredacted and one previously unreleased report published by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday. The findings were previously redacted so as not to prejudice ongoing legal proceedings against the two abusers: the former Anglican dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence and the former Catholic priest Vincent Gerard Ryan.

Lawrence is the most senior Anglican church figure found guilty of child sexual abuse, following his conviction in July 2019 for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 1991 at his home at Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle, New South Wales. He was sentenced to eight years in jail.

The Commission’s report on case study 42 found that the allegations that Lawrence was sexually abusing children were made on three separate occasions to the then Bishop Roger Herft.

Herft was told on different occasions in 1995, 1996 and 1999 that Lawrence had been sexually abusing young boys.

Herft told the commission that he could not recall these allegations being made to him.

“It seems extraordinary to us that the bishop of a diocese would have no recollection whatsoever of numerous people making allegations to him over a number of years that one of the most senior priests and powerful figures in the Diocese – the dean – had sexually abused children … and no recollection of discussing the allegations … We reject Bishop Herft’s evidence that he had no recollection of these matters.”


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