By John Martin
A court has ordered the Anglican Church of Australia to discontinue disciplinary proceedings against a bishop who did not take sufficient action against a notorious child abuser. The Tasmanian Supreme Court has ruled that Bishop Philip Newell, who now suffers from advanced dementia, is not fit to take part any disciplinary hearings.
In 2017, a royal commission on child sexual abuse highlighted church failure in Tasmania, and sharply criticised Newell. It found that despite three allegations of child abuse against Louis Daniels, who at the time was an Anglican priest, the bishop failed to take action against Daniels and even promoted him. Daniels later was convicted and defrocked.
Newell allowed Daniels to stay on in church, and took his word he had “amended his life.” A church-appointed disciplinary commission stood ready to consider what action should be taken over Bishop Newell, but his legal representatives applied for a stay of proceedings because of the state of his health. The action was successful and the current Bishop of Tasmania, Dr. Richard Condie, was advised the court had prohibited further action against Newell. There is no avenue for appeal against this decision.
“We’re very sad for survivors of sexual abuse, who were hoping for closure in this matter, and many others who are disappointed in the outcome,” Bishop Condie said.
Steve Fisher, an activist for church abuse survivors in Tasmania, said they were feeling “angry and totally disillusioned” with the ruling. “The only thing that gives us any comfort is that if the medical evidence is true, [Newell’s] final years will be spent with very little quality of life,” he said.
Bishop Philip Newell was Bishop of Tasmania from 1982-1999. He resigned his license to officiate in 2016. The court decision means he retains his title because the church tribunal process was the only available route for stripping him of holy orders.