I welcome the publishing of the long-awaited report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Hunter Region. The Report is substantial and thorough – it reveals significant research and investigation by Commission Staff.
As one who was in a position of leadership during the last 20 years covered in the Report, I have a real interest in its conclusion and recommendations.
When appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in 1995 I quickly learned of its troubled state. Immediately on my appointment a priest was arrested, charged with child sexual abuse and jailed. This was followed by a number of offenders, at least 2 of whom were sentenced to jail.
At the outset I was an inexperienced bishop who revealed his lack of experience in sometimes hesitant and indecisive ways. I felt torn between wanting to support the unfortunate victims of abuse and protecting the reputation of the Catholic Church. I eventually learned that it was not possible to do both. I also realised that I needed compassionate and professional child protection staff to ensure more appropriate compliance with moral and legal requirements.
The Commission has been critical of a number of people, including myself. I know that I am not beyond criticism. In my evidence before the Commission, I acknowledged my past mistakes. However, I stand by my evidence and express disappointment that the Commission has chosen to interpret some matters differently from myself.
The Report sheds light on a toxic period in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle where, for some, secrecy and self-protection took precedence over protecting the vulnerable.
I renew my deep regret and sorrow that too many innocent people were hurt in that time when we failed to effectively intervene and consequently allowed abuse to continue. It takes a big effort to turn a culture around, but I am confident that change had begun in my time, is continuing under Bishop Wright and this Report will be part of continuing that process.