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Royal commission: Newcastle bishop told by priest sexual favours would further his career
Updated Thu 24 Nov 2016, 1:28am
Photo: Newcastle's Anglican bishop Greg Thompson giving evidence to the child abuse royal commission. (Supplied: Royal Commission )
The Anglican bishop of Newcastle, Greg Thompson, has told a royal commission a priest said in the 1970s he would "get ahead" in the church if he offered sexual favours.Bishop Thompson was the final witness of the child abuse royal commission's hearing into Newcastle's Anglican diocese that is investigating widespread abuse carried out over decades.
The current bishop began his evidence by outlining his childhood, breaking down at times when he recalled being sexually abused by two male boarders staying at his home in his early teens.
Bishop Thompson explained how he got to know a priest, Eric Barker, in Newcastle in the 1970s who began to assault him when he was 19.
"He started kissing me and fondling me and telling me that I had too much to drink and should stay the night," Bishop Thompson said.He told the commission he rejected the advances.
Bishop Thompson said Barker told him he would be "looked after" and made a priest in Newcastle if he had a relationship with him.
"Through his body language, Barker left me in no doubt that when he said I would have to have a relationship with him, that I would have to have a sexual relationship with him."
Current bishop abused by former bishop
Photo: Bishop Greg Thompson says former bishop Ian Shevill (pictured) groomed and sexually assaulted him. (ABC 7.30)Bishop Thompson first revealed he was an abuse victim himself during an interview on ABC radio in 2015.
Today he detailed the extent of his abuse at the hands of former Newcastle bishop, Ian Shevill.
Bishop Thompson told the commission he was invited by Eric Barker to watch a movie with bishop Shevill.
"I felt that by paying me much attention, Parker and Shevill must have seen some potential in me," he said.
When Bishop Thompson arrived at the cinema, he said he realised it was an R-rated movie that contained a gay sex scene.
"At some point in the movie they groped me in the genital area, including at the same time," he said."I was scared and lost for words."
Bishop Thompson said he had considered the church to be a "safe harbour" for him after a turbulent childhood and he believed that made him vulnerable and a target.
Influential parishioners 'holding diocese captive'.The royal commission has previously heard a group of parishioners at Newcastle's Christ Church Cathedral were actively working against Bishop Thompson, angered by his work to uncover abuse.
Bishop Thompson told the commission the group was already trying to influence him as early as his consecration as bishop, where he was told to reverse the decisions made by the previous bishop, Brian Farran.
Those decisions included disciplinary action against the former dean of the cathedral, Graeme Lawrence, who was defrocked along with priests Andrew Duncan and Bruce Hoare in 2012.
"There are those who feel that this has brought shame on the church. That it's brought shame on people they revered," Bishop Thompson said.
The bishop said the criticism intensified when he made his own abuse public.
"They had an intent to challenge my character publicly and bring shame on my story,"' he said.Bishop Thompson described how some parishioners turned their backs on him in the cathedral.
"It sends a strong message that I'm not safe in that place and there are consequences if I do not follow what they want me to do," he said.
Bishop Thompson said apart from public shame, he and his staff have also had their cars vandalised and received an "avalanche" of aggressive emails.
Bishop describes 'systemic' abuse in Newcastle
Photo: The royal commission has heard evidence detailing paedophilia centred around Newcastle's cathedral. (ABC: Robert Virtue)A document was tendered to the royal commission outlining the names of 12 victims of the late paedophile priest Peter Rushton.
The commission heard the Newcastle diocese has identified 30 separate perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the region, including priests and lay people.
"It's the case that there has been a very significant problem with child sexual abuse in the diocese of Newcastle?" asked counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp.
"Systemic over many decades," Bishop Thompson replied.
Bishop Thompson said he was not aware of the scale of the problem when he took up the role of bishop and agreed it had been a steep "learning curve".
The bishop said he has commissioned a governance audit of the diocese to be conducted by financial firm KPMG, as well as a review of the professional standards system.
Bishop Thompson has attended each day of the 16-day hearing into Newcastle's Anglican diocese that concluded today.
Shortly after the hearing wrapped up he announced he was taking leave to "find recovery from the impact of working in the area of child abuse" and of "bearing public witness" to his own story.