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

Priest remains diocese leader despite abuse conviction

A PRIEST convicted of sexually abusing a former resident of Lismore's North Coast Children's Home has yet to be disciplined by the Anglican Church and remains a leader of the Newcastle Diocese, the royal commission has heard.

Giving evidence on Tuesday afternoon, a clearly disenchanted Michael Elliott, Professional Standards Director for the Grafton and Newcastle Diocese, conceded that despite his urgings for safeguards to be put in place "no steps have been taken to adopt practices with respect to those convicted of child sex abuse".

He said that as recently as "a few weeks ago" the Newcastle Diocese had adopted "safe ministry practises" protocol for clergy members but that the changes had not yet been applied to anyone, including Rev Allan Kitchingman, a former Lismore priest who was convicted and jailed in 2003 over the indecent assault of a teenage boy in the 1980s.

He also confirmed that due to administration issues, none of the people accused of abusing children at the home had been listed on a national sex offenders register.

Mr Elliott told the commission his concerns about the Grafton Diocese's response to allegations of abuse began when he first became involved in settlement negotiations between former Bishop Keith Slater and abuse victim Richard "Tommy" Campion.

At the time Mr Elliott, who was based at Newcastle, was required to provide assistance to Grafton "on a needs basis".

But he said that rather than ask for his help, former Bishop Slater "indicated the matter was being handled... (and) told me not to have any further contract with Mr Campion".

Mr Elliott wrote to Bishop Slater and expressed his concerns but it wasn't until earlier this year, when acting registrar Anne Hywood smuggled a pile of documents from the office and personally delivered them to Mr Elliott, that he became aware of further allegations of abuse.

He told the commission that after reading the files, he became so concerned that he was "compromising" his own integrity and that the church was "retraumatising victims" and failing to pass on documents to authorities, that he drafted his resignation.

After being urged by Ms Hywood to stay on, Mr Elliott agreed but said he would need to be employed on a full-time basis and required every document to be made available to him.

He said that by the time he got to speak with victims, one was so traumatised she was "on the brink of taking her own life".

He assured the commission all files had since been handed to police.

Earlier, Archdeacon Gregory Ezzy said that all claims brought by the 41 abuse victims who received varying amounts of compensation in 2007, were being reviewed so that the church could ensure "our protocols are treated with some integrity" and victims were being given the pastoral care they needed.

He maintained that during his 10 years as rector of the Lismore Parish, he had never heard a "whisper" about child sex abuse at the home and said that staff who were also "traumatised" by the allegations and the "many people" in Lismore who had "loved, supported and fundraised" for the home had also been offered counselling.

The hearings continue.