By Mark Brolly
23 December 2021
A FORMER Archbishop’s failure to follow then-existing child sexual abuse reporting protocols while Bishop of Newcastle was “very serious”, according to the Anglican Church’s Episcopal Standards Board.
The board found former Archbishop of Perth Roger Herft was unfit to remain in Holy Orders, in a ruling released in mid-December.
The board’s report in part relied on findings from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Its determination means Mr Herft, 73, is no longer recognised as an ordained member of the Church. The board determined that he be deposed from the exercise of Holy Orders under the 2017 Episcopal Standards Canon of the Anglican Church of Australia. The ruling was made public five days later.
The finding follows a reference relating to Mr Herft’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy while he was Bishop of Newcastle from 1993-2005, to the board in 2020 by the Episcopal Standards Commission.
The board found that allegations relayed to Mr Herft while he was Bishop of Newcastle related to serious criminal conduct.
It said the failure to report to police complaints entrusted to someone in a position of authority relating to conduct of that kind was of “utmost seriousness”.
The board said a bishop in Holy Orders was, and must be, held to a high standard of behaviour consistent with the expectations of the Church implicit in a bishop’s consecration.
The finding came after a hearing in September 2021, which Mr Herft did not attend.
In its determination the board said it unsuccessfully invited Mr Herft to participate on numerous occasions.
In its judgement the board said did not have evidence before it of mitigating factors, because Mr Herft refused to participate in the board’s processes.
“Despite the absence of evidence going to mitigation, the board accepts that it is likely that during his time as clergy, the respondent made positive and valuable contributions to the life of the Church and to society generally. Nonetheless, there will be conduct that no amount of otherwise good conduct can mitigate,” it said in its determination.
In a statement about the judgement, Australia’s Anglican Primate, Archbishop Geoff Smith of Adelaide, said the commission had found Mr Herft had failed to deal appropriately with some allegations of child sexual abuse while he was Bishop of Newcastle.
Mr Smith said there was no suggestion, and had been no allegation, that Mr Herft himself personally participated in such behaviour.
“Anglicans were shocked and dismayed at the unfolding in the Royal Commission of the scope of our failure to tackle child sexual abuse within the Church and the depth of survivors’ pain and suffering,” Mr Smith said.
“We are deeply ashamed of the many ways in which we let down survivors, both in the way we have acted and the way we failed to act.
“The Anglican Church of Australia is committed to the safety of children and vulnerable people in its care and to ensuring that information concerning possible abuse is taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.”
Perth’s Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy said the Board’s determination was “a strong indication of how seriously the Church takes the issue of child sexual abuse and of our commitment to repentance and renewal”.
“The Diocese of Perth expresses its deep sorrow and laments the harm caused to children who suffered abuse and whose allegations were not believed or acted upon,” she said.
“At this time, those of whom we are most aware are survivors of child sexual abuse, wherever it has taken place, and of the ongoing commitment that we in the Diocese of Perth have to ensuring that the Church is a welcoming and safe community.
“The Diocese of Perth is committed to living out its responsibilities for safe ministry and responding to allegations of abuse.”
Archbishop Goldsworthy, who was consecrated as bishop in 2008 by then Archbishop Herft, concluded her statement with a Prayer for Survivors of Abuse in the Church.
The Episcopal Standards Board comprises members elected by General Synod. Members who considered Mr Herft’s matter were Deputy President Peter Dunning QC, a former Queensland Solicitor-General, Bishop Ian Coutts of Bunbury, former Bishop of North Queensland William Ray, former Bush Church Aid Society missionary Vivien Bleby of Adelaide, and Sydney Anglican and barrister Michelle England.
Mr Herft was Archbishop of Perth from 2005-17. Born in Sri Lanka, he had also previously served as bishop of the New Zealand diocese of Waikato from 1986-93.