The Anglican Church of Newcastle buried complaints about sex abusers, including reports of a senior priest who was part of a paedophile ring that involved priests and lay people.
In exclusive interviews with 7.30, whistleblowers revealed how they have been harassed and had their lives threatened for their work to expose the truth.
“I was subject to a death threat and on advice from the police and with the support of the Church’s insurer, they agreed to relocate me and my family for a period of two weeks,” John Cleary, the diocese’s business manager, said.
His colleague Michael Elliott, the director of professional standards, moved house five times within a year because of weekly vandalism to his car and house.
His family’s dog also disappeared.
“Each time they found me and within a very short period of time, two to three weeks, began targeting me again,” Mr Elliott said.
Anglican abusers ‘better organised’
Mr Elliott has worked for both the Catholic Church and the Anglicans investigating sex abuse complaints.
He said the Anglican abusers were worse than the Catholics because they cooperated with each other.
“My experience in the Anglican Diocese is that the abusers tended to be better organised, more cooperative … it was a larger scale of child abuse and they cooperated together,” he said.
“If you want to call it a paedophile ring … certainly there were groups of child sex abusers that were working together to facilitate their abuse of children, without a doubt.”
The ring leader
One of the Hunter’s most notorious paedophiles was Father Peter Rushton, the Archdeacon of Maitland.
In 2010 the Church named him as being a paedophile who also arranged for boys to be abused by others.
Mr Elliott said he believed complaints about Rushton were ignored.
“There’s evidence that there was an awareness of Rushton’s offending,” he said.
‘Mates protecting mates’
Bishop Greg Thompson, the current Bishop of Newcastle, has joined the men in speaking out against the “mates protecting mates” culture that allowed abuse complaints to be buried.
“Colluding against enquiries by police, removing documents, covering up serial offending by these people, this is what ‘mates looking after mates’ looks like in the Church at times,” Bishop Thompson said.
Bishop Thompson is also a survivor of abuse. His abuse was at the hands of the then Bishop of Newcastle, Ian Shevill.
“The offending affected me significantly and it still does, it affects the way I see myself, but it’s also galvanised me not to turn a blind eye to them, to these matters,” he said.
Bishop Thompson’s decision to speak out has come at a personal and professional cost, with other members of the clergy unhappy with his public stance.
“My leadership is being criticised because I’m opening the cupboards and we’re finding the skeletons,” he said.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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