Royal Commission Evidence Claims Wide Concerns about Bishop Greg Thompson’s Leadership

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Perhaps the most explosive element of last Tuesday’s hearings at the Royal Commission here in Australia was the closing testimony of Robert Caddies, a lawyer who had previous served the Diocese of Newcastle.

Caddies was one of a number of members of the diocese who had signed a letter sent to Justice McClellan, the presiding judge at the Commission. The letter [pdf] is now in the public domain on the Commission’s own website.

The key claim is that Thompson has mishandled the way he dealt with his own abuse; principally that he was an adult who knew of an abuser but did nothing to protect others until he announced the abuse only at the end of last year.

His Honour was not happy with the letter. The Newcastle Herald, who have picked up this story today, set out the details of the encounter:

“You were wanting the royal commission to investigate the bishop, is that what it amounted to?” Justice McClellan asked Mr Caddies, who was diocesan lawyer for nine years until 2005, and a friend of defrocked former Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence.

“Were you seeking to say to the royal commission that because it’s taken so long, the bishop’s credibility should be looked at?” Justice McClellan said.

Mr Caddies: “No, not at all.”

Justice McClellan: “Not at all?”

Mr Caddies: “I don’t believe so.”

Mr Caddies acknowledged he had challenged Bishop Thompson’s credibility, after Justice McClellan questioned him about a statement to the royal commission in which he said: “I question if Bishop Thompson was in fact abused, why didn’t he report it earlier?”

Justice McClellan questioned Mr Caddies about the “very serious division” in the diocese that started with professional standards hearings in 2010 against Graeme Lawrence after child sex allegations against him.

“You’re in one side of the divisions, aren’t you?” Justice McClellan said.

“Yes, I probably am, your Honour,” Mr Caddies said.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp questioned Mr Caddies about a “bloc” associated with Newcastle Christ Church Cathedral that was “seeking to undermine Bishop Thompson at the moment”.

“I wouldn’t call it a bloc, but they are people, they’re diverse people from all walks of life and from various places in Newcastle in that list. I wouldn’t call them a bloc,” Mr Caddies said.

He denied the group was trying to undermine the bishop.

“No, I don’t think it is quite the position. We have concerns about him and in relation to management of the diocese,” Mr Caddies said.

Those wider concerns are outlined in another letter, now also on the public record on the Commission’s website [pdf], that was sent to Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney, the Metropolitan of New South Wales. It is clear from even a brief read that the letter to the Commission is only a very redacted version of this much longer list of complaints.

The letter outlines a large number of issues, far outside the scope of matters raised with the Royal Commission. It includes charges that Bishop Thompson

  • failed to disclose prior to election that he would not live at Bishopscourt and would instead insist upon housing elsewhere.
  • Has been absent from many events he would be expected to attending including many Christmas services in both 2014 and 2015, speech days at Church and Diocesan schools and even clergy conference for 2 years.
  • Has what could be called a strained relationship with many members of clergy (“he has behaved in a derogatory manner towards members of the Diocesan clergy”) and failed to meet many who have asked him to.
  • Has precipitated a turnover of “all the of the collective experienced legal minds of the Diocese” from positions such as trustee of Diocesan property, members of Diocesan Council and boards, chairs of committees etc. and then refused to meet with any of them.

The letter goes on to ask Archbishop Davies what might be done about the situation, including whether the matter should be dealt with under the Episcopal Standards Canon 2007 [pdf] which may require a “medical, psychiatric or psychological examination”.

This is a story that has been following since the original letter was sent (we received a copy shortly after). At the time we thought it in the best interest of the Diocese of Newcastle not to publish these allegations. Now that the Newcastle Herald has published on the matter (and Bishop Thompson has chosen to make a public response through the newspaper) it seems appropriate to report the full circumstances.

Discussions with sources in the Diocese of Newcastle tell me that those unhappy with Bishop Thompson’s actions come from the entire spectrum of theological viewpoints. Some have relationships with those who are persons of interest to the Royal Commission, some are vehemently opposed to them. Rather than there being a single “bloc” (as the counsel for the Commission describes it) there is now widespread dismay with Thompson’s actions outside of his robust handling of the matters before the Royal Commission. I have personally heard numerous allegations of overly authoritarian and controlling behaviour from liberals, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics alike. Many sources in the Diocese of the Northern Territory (where Bishop Thompson was translated from) tell of similar events during his time in charge.

The Royal Commission has been dealing with serious matters of child abuse in the Diocese of Newcastle. It seems that Robert Caddies’ evidence, part of which was to affirm and support Bishop Thompson’s great desire and widely-acknowledged effective work to deal with those historical child abuse matters, has now opened up for scrutiny new issues which have arisen since Bishop Thompson arrived.

[breaking] Every signatory to the letter to Glenn Davies has now received a letter from Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart acting as “commissary” stating that they are now regarded as persons not suitable for any office in the diocese. This includes a number of wardens at the cathedral.


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  1. Anonymous

    Bishop Thompson’s leadership and pastoral support of the diocese is a completely separate matter to the Royal Commission and the two should not be discussed in the same breath. The second letter above though is especially appalling – those who have signed it are giving the world a clear example of what has been historically wrong with the church – a culture of refusing to believe victims of abuse. The main instigator – best chums with a paedophile, is now riling against the bishops statement that he was abused as well. That sounds a little suss to me. Also the statements made in this letter are absolutely appalling – as someone who suffered sexual abuse (not in the church) I completely understand why Bishop Thompson would not have told anyone – even though he was a 19 year old, he was a person under the influence of people in power, and he would have felt a great deal of shame. It has been over 20 years since I was abused as a teenager and the only person I have ever told is my wife – I struggle with that, because what if I wasn’t the only one?… but the thought of telling others brings me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.

    As for the statement that he was 19 and engaged in tertiary education and ‘therefore was a consenting adult’… That is the most idiotic thing I have ever read – it is the same as saying a 19 year old woman who is raped at university is a consenting adult because of her age.

    I vehemently disagree with some of Bishop Thompson’s theological positions, and from what I have heard I would likely disagree with many of his leadership practices. However to try and make him out to be incompetent based on the fact that as a vulnerable, impressionable 19 year old he suffered abuse is simply abhorrent.

    1. David Ould

      Thanks Anonymous. I normally don’t publish anonymous comments but I thought it was appropriate to do so in this case because of both the argument being made and your own disclosure. Appreciate you writing.

      I do agree with what you say. I personally think that letter to the Commission was a serious mistake and was never going to be received well.

  2. David Stewart

    I am disappointed that you published the Anonymous comment above. Your conditions require no name-calling, yet the writer states “best chums with a paedophile”. This is name calling – who is a best chum, who the paedophile? I know the writers of these letters personally, I know the leading clergy and many within parishes of Newcastle diocese and I know the despair that Bishop Thompson brought into his reign before the Royal Commission was established, despair from an open community with a wide range of theological practise, and with a welcoming heart. These are all people who abhor abuse of children and who are in despair at the failure of Bishops over decades.

    That the letter was written was not a mistake, though it may have been better written. That it was not received well was inevitable because it questions some populist stances. Bishop Thompson had no hesitation in using media to accuse a previous Bishop, dead many years, and another senior clergy who can be identified, without allowing any process or questioning, and then repeating in Synod and to the press. And this when he was not a child – it took away from the real pain of the real tragedy of the children who were abused.

    In another article you postulate that Bishop Herft should resign. Let the Commission finish its work before backyard lawyers sit in judgement. The whole hearings, which I have read in detail and not the newspaper summaries, show a man struggling with why his Bishopric, his Diocese, his clergy, could have apparently failed as it did. Let some analysis of this be done before it is deemed he should resign or not. He is a very good priest and a true man of God; he did fail in some things.

    1. David Ould

      David. Thank you for writing. I appreciate that this is a tricky subject and everyone who comments upon it is, to some effect, sticking their neck out.
      I agree with you that the phrase “best chums with a paedophile” is not a helpful way of expressing things. However, I think you will find that in general this website has been critical of a number of elements of Bishop Thompson’s leadership and I know that many of my readers will have a lot of sympathy with the thrust of the main complaints in the 2 letters written above.

      I think it is, however, worth acknowledging a few things about the letters, even if one agrees with the complaints in them.
      First, it is clear (as you state) that the complaints about Bishop Thompsons’ leadership come from those in the full spectrum of theological opinion in the diocese.
      Second, I think it does however also need to be acknowledged that some of the signatories have closer relationships with disgraced clergy. Of course that doesn’t in any way diminish the substance of their complaint but it does make it more difficult for some to listen to those complaints. I’m not saying that that’s a correct conclusion, just pointing out that that’s the dynamic that can occur.

      As for Archbishop Herft. I do agree with you that he is a good man and I have a great deal of sympathy for him. However, my piece is not written as a “backyard lawyer” but simply as someone reflecting upon his now completed testimony. It seems to me that there is a best response from him now. But others may differ. I trust my piece that you refer to is sufficiently balanced to allow those variables to be discerned.

  3. David Stewart

    David, thank you for responding. In all of this much is said and some have hurts and fear and anger.
    Yes I agree with you. Some of the signatories do have close relationships with some disgraced or accused clergy. That is inevitable as most of the sinters are older, have lived across the diocese for a long time and have been faithful Christians. And yes it does make it difficult for some matters to be given or received well.
    I respect your work with this website, this blog. And. yes it is your blog after all.
    David Stewart
    Newcastle East

  4. Greg Colby

    I find your support of the signatories to this letter quite disturbing. You argue that they find sexual abuse of children abhorrent and yet they remain friends with a known pedaphile without challenging them on their activities. That they wrote a letter to the royal commission can only be construed as an attempt to derail the processes that our diocese has taken and to discredit the evidence and besmirch the good name and character of our Bishop. These people quite rightly were informed they no longer were suitable to hold positions in our diocese; they did after all attempt to bring all of our God work undone with their unsupported allegations. Your claim of widespread concerns holds little to no credibility without these brace souls coming forward and.naming themselves on your erstwhile site. Your claim of ‘insiders’ telling you about their greavamces smacks of hyperbole. I respect your not naming your sources, but I’d be interested in knowing the number of them.

    1. David Ould

      I find your support of the signatories to this letter quite disturbing.

      Greg, I’m afraid you have mistaken reporting of the issues raised with an open support of those who signed the letters.

      You argue that they find sexual abuse of children abhorrent

      no I don’t. I don’t argue anything about them at all. I’m just reporting the letter.

      and yet they remain friends with a known pedaphile without challenging them on their activities.

      I entirely agree. Those signatories in this position utterly undermine any good intention they may have in writing the letter.

      I respect your not naming your sources, but I’d be interested in knowing the number of them.

      And you’ll understand why I won’t give an exact number. If you think there’s not a wider issue in the diocese above and beyond the dealing with the Royal Commission matters then I’m afraid I can’t help you.

      For clarity let’s repeat what has been written here many time. Bishop Thompson’s handling of the Royal Commission matters appears to be exemplary. But that can’t simply lead to a blanket license to do other things that aren’t appropriate.

  5. richiejs

    November 2018. Water under the bridge now. Anyway as the deposition of Herft commences, the final findings of Newcastle CS 42 flow through, more investigations are commenced. All I can say about the above comment besides the obvious which is that operationally the use of social media and the comments section of different Media outlets , David Ould being perhaps the most comprehensive long term media site that gives a long term timeline and is also excellent journalism shows that this still extant comment by “David Stewart” can be shown to be typical of denialism minimisation obscurantism and the subtle defence of known criminal elements within the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle. That David Stewart at the time was brave enough to publish this in the comments section is a historical curiosity. Now in 2018 his arguments have been totally demolished and his defence of those elements within the Diocese of Newcastle that attempted to block the investigations of the Royal Commission and its associated investigative task forces shows a complete lack of empathy compassion or understanding. I hope that his comment has been noted not only by the Diocesan leadership team but also by the internal and external investigation units linked to the follow up of evidence in CS42.

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