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Bishop denies knowing about clergy abuse

AAP logoAAP 2/08/2016 By Annette Blackwell

An Anglican bishop who appointed and promoted pedophile clergy in a NSW diocese has repeatedly denied he knew anything about their sexual activities.

In an extraordinary day of evidence at a royal commission hearing into child sex abuse in the Anglican diocese of Newcastle, NSW, Bishop Alfred Holland who ran the diocese for 14 years to 1992 repeatedly denied any knowledge of extensive child sex abuse on his watch.

Bishop Holland said several times he could not recall ever being made aware of allegations against prolific pedophile Peter Rushton, whom he made archdeacon of Maitland.

He also could not recall ever hearing that there was a pedophile ring operating out of Anglican-run boys home St Alban's at Cessnock, or being contacted by an assistant priest reporting that Rushton had abused his five-year-old son.

Suzan Aslin has given evidence at the commission that she spoke to Bishop Holland about Rushton and Jim Brown - a youth worker at St Alban's - who were fostering boys.

Brown is currently in jail serving a 20-year sentence for abusing 19 boys. Rushton died in 2007 and was never charged.

Bishop Holland was asked about a character reference he gave for priest Stephen Gray, who was charged with the sexual abuse of a juvenile in 1990.

He had appointed Gray rector at Wyong.

The bishop said when he wrote the reference he thought Gray was being charged with wrecking a rectory during a wild party and was just trying to help him rebuild his life.

He had taken away his licence on the advice of Keith Allen, a close associate of the diocese who later became a trustee.

He said he did not know at the time Mr Allen was a solicitor acting for Gray.

The reference praised Gray's compassion as a priest and was written at the request of Mr Allen. His attention was drawn to a police report saying Gray had homosexual intercourse with a male 10 to 16 years old.

"I have no knowledge or memories" of this, Bishop Holland said.

He was shown a letter from Sydney Bishop John Reid which referred to conversations they had had about Gray's sexual problems but he had no recall of this.

He said he could not recall the letter or the conversation about Gray, who he had appointed as rector at Wyong.

A file note from the current business manager of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle John Cleary, dated 2015, was entered into evidence.

The note recorded a conversation between Keith Allen and Mr Cleary.

It said Mr Allen would be trying to get a medical certificate for Holland saying that he was in no fit state to give evidence. The note also said that as Holland's legal adviser he would be advising the bishop to tell the commission he could not recall anything.

Bishop Holland said he had not spoken with Keith Allen in the past five or six years and their only contact was an exchange of Christmas cards.

A former priest in the diocese Roger Dyer told the commission on Wednesday that he had been harassed and bullied since he blew the whistle on pedophile activity in the Anglican Church in Newcastle.

The hearing before Justice Peter McClellan continues on Thursday.

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