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 davidould.net 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.