Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. Circa 1970. Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. Circa 1970. Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

Every Anglican Church diocese may be audited

HUNDREDS of files are being reviewed and an audit of every diocese in the country is on the cards as the Anglican Church deals with the fall out of a damning royal commission inquiry.

The two-week investigation into the way the Grafton Diocese responded to allegations of child sex abuse at Lismore's North Coast Children's Home, began with haunting tales of savage beatings, rapes and emotional torment and ended with an acknowledgment from the Primate of the Anglican Church, Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall, that it was time for cultural change.

While no witness denied that the abuse had occurred, the hearings were not without controversy.

Former Grafton Registrar Pat Comben, who has since relinquished holy orders and is no longer a reverend of the Anglican Church, defended the diocese's hardline approach to victims seeking compensation on the grounds the church was "asset rich but cash poor".

The way in which former Lismore priest Allan Kitchingman was able to move between dioceses for decades without having his behaviour called into question by the church was put down to poor communication between bishops.

Serious concerns were raised about the Newcastle Diocese taking "no steps" to enforce "safe ministry practices", which were recently adopted by the church for the specific purpose of monitoring child sex offenders.

Professional standards directors questioned glitches in the Church's national database, which was introduced as an internal red flag system for "persons of concern" but for various reasons, was failing.

Grafton Diocese Professional Standards Director Michael Elliott said one of the problems was that too many people had access to the database, including those listed.

He said people were notified when they were put on the list and sometimes, if police investigations were under way, that was inappropriate.

The last witness to take the stand this week, Rev Dr Phillip Aspinall told the commission of his plans to prevent a "Grafton-like situation" from ever emerging again.

He proposed a national auditing group, which met every two to three years, visited each diocese, looked at the procedures they had in place and ensured they were working.

He admitted the task ahead would not be easy - since the royal commission was announced almost 300 files relating to allegations of child sex abuse in Brisbane alone had been listed for review.

He also assured the commission that the professional standards committee would welcome an independent review of the Church's proposed policies as it was "committed to getting this right".

The commissioners have until January 20 to make recommendations.

Submissions will be made at royal commission headquarters in Sydney on January 24.

An inquiry into the Towards Healing program, which was adopted by the Archdiocese of Brisbane and Diocese of Lismore in response to allegations of child sex abuse, will begin on December 9.