Perth Archbishop gives second day of evidence in Royal Commission

PERTH Archbishop Roger Herft has repeatedly told the Royal Commission he is unable to recall anything about a range of child sexual abuse allegations that documents show were raised with him during his 12 years as bishop of Newcastle from 1993 to 2005.

I can’t answer that, I can’t answer that question because I have no recollection of it happening.

Roger Herft

Resuming evidence he began on Friday, August 12, Reverend Herft was questioned a number of times about his lack of recall, but he insisted he could remember nothing without documentation in relation to various high-profile abuse cases being examined by the commission.

Numerous times, Reverend Herft agreed he had failed the victims of abusive priests in his diocese, and said he was tortured in not knowing why he did not do more.

I CANNOT RECALL: Perth Archbishop Roger Herft leaves the Royal Commission on Monday after a second day of evidence in which he admitted to failing to come to grips with child abuse during his time in Newcastle.

I CANNOT RECALL: Perth Archbishop Roger Herft leaves the Royal Commission on Monday after a second day of evidence in which he admitted to failing to come to grips with child abuse during his time in Newcastle.

For the first time, the commission gave a detailed picture of the number of cases being examined, with counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, saying the Newcastle diocese’s director of professional standards, Michael Elliott, had given the commission 30 of the “yellow” envelopes that sensitive matters were kept in.

Ms Sharp said that on August 12, Mr Elliott had given the commission 30 envelopes, but there was no material for the envelopes numbered 3, 17, 18, 21, 28 and 36.

She said 26 of the envelopes appeared to related to child sexual abuse allegations and that Reverend Herft had been given copies of 25 of the 26 files: the other file related to trainee priest Ian Barrack, whose abuse of an under-age youth, CKU, is a subject before the commission. 

Ms Sharp revealed there was no envelope for Graeme Lawrence, the disgraced former dean of Newcastle whose power in the diocese has been a subject of interest to the commission.

Revered Herft agreed with the chairman of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, that he knew there was no yellow envelope for Mr Lawrence.

Reverend Herft said there should have been an envelope containing the “relevant notes” on Mr Lawrence, but there was not, and he had “no explanation to give” as to why there did not appear to be one.

There was also no envelope for a James Brown, a lay reader at the diocese who was committed to stand trial for a sexual assault during Reverend Herft’s tenure as Newcastle bishop.

At various stages during his evidence on Monday, Reverend Herft agreed that the evidence of others – evidence he said he did not doubt – showed he had been told on multiple occasions about child sexual abuse allegations against Lawrence, against the subsequently disgraced priest the late Peter Rushton and against another priest, CKC. In this case, CKC’s alleged sexual assault of victim CKA is being reinvestigated by police after the original 2001 trial was discontinued when the church produced a service register that Justice McCellan described on Monday as “an alibi”.

Numerous times, Reverend Herft insisted he had no recollection of tipping off Mr Lawrence, although he agrees he did so because he wrote letters obtained by the commission that confirm this course of action.

When Ms Sharp asked Reverend Herft if he had “absolutely no recollection of meeting with Graeme Lawrence in July 1995 to discuss an allegation that he had sexually abused two boys”,  the Perth Archbishop said: “That is right, I do not have a recollection.”

Ms Sharp: “None whatsoever?”

Reverend Herft” Absolutely none.”

Soon after, Ms Sharp asked: “How is it possible that you have no recollection whatsoever of meeting with one of the most powerful men in the diocese to discuss an extremely serious allegation that he sexually abused a child?”

Reverend Herft said: “This . . . I can’t answer that, I can’t answer that question because I have no recollection of it happening.”

“Is that the truth, that you have no recollection?

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you have any explanation whatsoever for why you have no recollection of this meeting?”

“No.”

Justice McClellan questioned Reverend Herft about his lack of recall, saying he should have made notes of his meetings.

“Yes, that’s what frustrates me, that those particular notes which it was normally my practice to make, have not been able to be located within the diocese,” Reverend Herft said.

Ms Sharp said that by 1999 the whispers against Mr Lawrence had become “a roar” but Reverend Herft said that was not the way he understood the situation.

In other evidence, Reverend Herft was taken through his handling of the Rushton matter” the one-time Wallsend priest was found with a mountain of pornography – some of it apparently child porn – and was also the subject of multiple allegations of child sexual offences.

Reverend Herft agreed that “alarm bells” were ringing about Rushton in 2003 but he was “deeply fooled, I think, into thinking that . . . this person . . . had changed . . . “.

Cross-examined late on Monday by Stuart O’Connell, a solicitor for three victims including CKA, Reverend Herft agreed CKA gave him statements in 1996 in 1999 that had enough information for him to go to the police, but he did not.

Mr O’Connell: “And once again, you deliberately decided not to follow what you refer to in your evidence as a policy that was very clear from its inception?”

Reverend Herft: “Yes.”

He said when he met CKA in 2003 it “suddenly dawned on me that this person was telling the truth”.

The hearing continues on Tuesday.

This story Bishop loses his recall first appeared on Newcastle Herald.