A web of child sexual abuse in the Newcastle Anglican diocese has alleged links to politicians, business people, doctors and members of the city’s legal fraternity, the ABC understands.
Inquiries into abuse incidents in the diocese are underway by a police strike force and the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.
Several alleged paedophile rings with links to local schools and children’s homes are also being investigated.
Clearly there are questions to be asked about those relationships and how they operated and how they were protecting each other.
Greg Thompson, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle
Newcastle’s Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson said there were also allegations of Anglican and Catholic clergy protecting each other.
“If your ministry team exists in a small town, they know each other,” he said.
“Then clearly there are questions to be asked about those relationships and how they operated and how they were protecting each other.”
Bishop Thompson said the size of the alleged paedophile network was disturbing.
“I think the culture is not only in the church … it is in the wider community and the relationships that people have with each other from sporting clubs, from professional associations, from going to school,” he said.
“They have held those relationships in such high esteem that they’ve not been prepared to name and own up to the abuse that’s gone on [among] their friends.
“They have been silent and not acted, and now is the time to come forward.
“I think we need to ask the good question of how people were protected, and what were the motivations of people when they heard about abuse from children.”
Some people ‘do not want the culture to change’
In a statement, Bishop Thompson said the church was committed to giving victims ongoing support.
“We are working hard to address the past culture that allowed abuse,” he said.
“We have policies and practices in place to ensure the wellbeing of all who now participate in church activities.”
However, he said some people remained opposed to change within the organisation.
“My own experience, in the past and the present, is that there are people who do not want the culture to change,” he said.
“They seek either to groom people or bully people into silence.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has confirmed planning is underway for public hearings to be held in Newcastle in 2016.
In February 2014, it held four days of private hearings in Newcastle, with 32 people coming forward to talk about their experiences.
Newcastle has been at the forefront of the push to expose child sexual abuse, with outspoken former Hunter region police officer Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox partly credited for pushing the Federal Government into setting up the royal commission.
If this story raises issues or concerns you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the NSW Police on 1800 333 000, or the Diocesan Director of Professional Standards on 1800 774 945.