SYDNEY – [AAP]
The former head of the Grafton Anglican diocese says he is totally humiliated for personally falling ‘very short’ in dealing with the victims of sex abuse.
Keith Slater, the former bishop of Grafton, said he felt deep sorrow about the way he had handled claims from dozens of former residents of a children’s home on the NSW north coast.
A royal commission is examining the response of the Diocese of Grafton to claims of child abuse involving clergy and staff at the former North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore from 1944 to 1985.
The Sydney hearing is focused on the response to a group claim made by about 40 former residents of the home, who claimed to have suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse there.
‘I want to express my deep sorrow to those who were abused, who were claimants, during my time as the bishop of the Diocese of Grafton,’ Bishop Slater told the commission on Tuesday.
‘I fell short, very short, in my oversight of the protocol and the processes that were required.’
He said he was ‘personally totally humiliated in myself in this regard’.
The Anglican church will now review financial settlements to more than 40 alleged victims of sex abuse at the home, the commission heard.
It has been told the diocese brokered an $825,000 settlement with the claimants in 2007, and denied financial redress to other alleged victims.
It has previously been told some of the claimants received just $10,000 after legal costs.
Grafton diocese administrator, Archdeacon Greg Ezzy, on Tuesday told the inquiry the 2007 settlements would be audited.
The diocese’s professional standards committee would ‘review each one of those in order to make sure that our protocols are treated with some integrity,’ Archdeacon Ezzy said.
He said a new pastoral care and assistance scheme would be applied retrospectively to the 41 claims.
Bishop Slater quit his post in May after Anglican primate Phillip Aspinall gave him the option of resigning at a meeting about professional standards in the diocese.
He conceded to the commission that the approach taken to negotiating claims could be construed as ‘unduly harsh’ given the abuse that victims suffered.
He agreed with counsel assisting the commission, Simeon Beckett, that the deal was struck to get the best outcome for the church.
The commission was also told Bishop Slater took advice to block a former resident of the home, Richard ‘Tommy’ Campion, from having legal representation at a meeting with the church in 2012.
Entering the witness stand for a second day, Bishop Slater apologised if he seemed ‘to smile at a time which is not appropriate’, noting that smiling was ‘very much part’ of his personality.
‘I recognise the gravity and the seriousness of the matters that are before us,’ he added.
The commission heard the diocese was grappling with debt around the time of the group claim and by 2010 was in deep financial trouble.
The hearing continues on Wednesday.