Former Archbishop of Perth deposed over abuse cover up

On 13 December 2021 the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, the Most Revd. Geoffrey Smith issued a statement advising that the Episcopal Standards Board of the Anglican Church of Australia has determined that Roger Herft, formerly Archbishop of Perth and Bishop of Newcastle, was unfit to remain in Holy Orders and that he should be deposed. This means that he will no longer be recognised as an ordained member of the Anglican Church. Mr. Herft chose not attend or be represented at the Board’s hearing.

The Episcopal Standards Board (the Board) is a disciplinary tribunal established by the Church to make determinations arising from the behaviour of serving and retired Bishops of the Church.

Mr. Herft came before Board in the first instance and the basis of the Board’s decision to depose him was based on findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was highly critical of him and concluded that Mr. Herft had failed to deal appropriately with some allegations of child sexual abuse while he was Bishop of Newcastle.

The Royal Commission said that during his time as the Bishop of Newcastle “there was a substantial failure in risk management”, which “left children at risk”. No disciplinary processes were initiated against clergy against whom allegations of child sexual abuse were made; other dioceses were not warned of allegations when alleged perpetrators moved; and survivors were not offered timely or compassionate pastoral care and support. The Royal Commission noted that Mr. Herft had mismanaged allegations of child sexual abuse made against a senior priest of the diocese.  The Royal Commission said that His response was weak and ineffectual and showed no regard for the need to protect children from the risk that they could be preyed upon,” and “It was a failure of leadership.”

The Royal Commission and the Board were both equally clear that there is no suggestion, and there has been no allegation, that Mr. Herft himself personally participated in such behaviour.

No doubt senior personnel in the Church of England will be watching this development with interest as when IICSA published its report on 6 October, 2020 detailing the outcome of its investigations into whether the Church of England and the Church in Wales had protected children from sexual abuse in the past and the effectiveness of current safeguarding arrangement, the report found that the Church of England had failed to protect children and young people from sexual predators within their ranks.

IICSA said that its investigations demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities creating a culture where abusers could hide. IICSA concluded that the Church defended those against whom allegations were made instead of taking the appropriate steps to protect children and young people from sexual predators.

The October, 2020 report referred to a number of specific instances such as the late cathedral dean, Robert Waddington, about whom serious allegations were made in 1999. The then Archbishop of York said there was “simply no possibility” of the claims being correct. It also referenced the Reverend Ian Hughes, from Merseyside, who was convicted in 2014 for downloading 8,000 indecent images of children. His offending was played down by a senior colleague.

IICSA said the Church had not taken allegations seriously and neglected the “physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation”, which was in direct conflict with its mission “of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable”.

When the report was published in October, 2020 the Church said it felt “shame” over the failings detailed in the report and both the Church of England and the Church of Wales responded positively, with the Archbishops’ Council formally accepting all the recommendations made by IICSA in the October, 2020 report in full and creating an independent body to oversee safeguarding practices.

Sharon Moohan, Partner, BLM

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