The former Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, has been found unfit to remain in Holy Orders – by the Episcopal Standards Board of the Anglican Church Of Australia. This means he is removed from the priesthood and is no longer an ordained minister in the church.
Herft served as Bishop of Newcastle from 1993 and 2005 during part of the period that sexual abuse of minors occurred in that diocese (region). The case for removing him from the priesthood is based on findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.
An unredacted version of the Royal Commission’s report released in May 2020 “concerned the respondent’s [Herft] alleged failure between 1995 and 1999 to comply with the requirements of the legal and professional conduct framework which applied to the conduct of the then Dean of the Diocese of Newcastle, Dean Graeme Lawrence.”
The release of the unredacted report allowed the Episcopal Standards Commission to proceed with its hearings against Herft.
The abuse uncovered by the Royal Commission and the work of Joanne McCarthy of the Newcastle Herald revealed a large amount of abuse in the diocese, including by clergy such as Lawrence, and systematic cover-ups.
The ESB determination (judgment) records “the alleged failure of the respondent concerned allegations made to him on three separate occasions over a number of years regarding the Dean of the Diocese. The respondent gave sworn evidence that he spoke to the Dean about the allegations made on each of the three occasions. His evidence was that he accepted the Dean’s denials.
“The [Episcopal Standards Commission] submits, and the Board agrees, that it is appropriate to endorse the Royal Commission’s finding 24 that the respondent mishandled the allegations of child sexual abuse made against two of the most senior and domineering priests in the Diocese – the Dean of the Cathedral, Mr Lawrence … and the one-time Archdeacon of Maitland, Father Rushton.”
The ESB had four options open to it in determining what should happen to Bishop Herft ranging from counselling to removal from holy orders. They chose the most severe option.
The Royal Commission found that Herft, through inaction, contributed to the diocese’s systematic failure to make perpetrators accountable for their conduct.
Despite Herft not appearing at the Episcopal Standards Commission hearing, the board was satisfied by evidence to the Royal Commission, at which Herft appeared and was legally represented, and concluded: “the respondent’s own submissions to the Royal Commission might fairly be considered to have presented the best arguments available to him.”
In a statement, the Primate (lead bishop) of the Anglican Church of Australia, Geoff Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide, notes, “There is no suggestion, and there has been no allegation, that Mr Herft himself personally participated in such behaviour [sexual abuse]. The Board has examined the extent to which he discharged his responsibility as bishop.
“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. 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.”