By Mark Michael
The Most Rev. Roger Herft, the former Archbishop of Perth in Australia, has been deposed from Holy Orders for failing to properly handle child sexual abuse allegations during his tenure as Bishop of Newcastle, from 1993 to 2005. The Anglican Church of Australia’s Episcopal Standards Board, which rendered the ruling on December 13, noted that Herft is not personally accused of any abuse.
According to a statement issued by Archbishop Geoffrey Smith, the Australian primate, the board’s decisions were based on the 2017 findings of Australia’s nationwide Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Commission’s report judged that “there was a substantial failure in risk management during Bishop Herft’s episcopate. This left children at risk. The way in which the diocese handled allegations of child sexual abuse shows there was a large gap between the diocese’s policies and its practices.”
The report singled out Herft’s failure to act on abuse allegations made against “two of the most senior and domineering priests in the diocese,” former Newcastle Cathedral dean Graeme Lawrence and Peter Rushton, the former Archdeacon of Maitland. “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,” the Royal Commission found. “It was a failure of leadership.”
Lawrence was deposed from Holy Orders by the Diocese of Newcastle in 2012, and convicted in 2019 of sexually assaulting a fifteen year old boy. Rushton, identified by the Royal Commission as a “prolific child sex offender,” ran a pedophile ring out of St. Alban’s Home for Boys, an Anglican institution in Cessnock, New South Wales in the 1960’s and amassed a large collection of child pornography. He died in 2007, and was never convicted for his deeds.
In 2019, it was also revealed that Herft improperly spent $479,000 AUD in diocesan funds for his own legal costs in combatting allegations associated with his mishandling of the abuse cases.
Herft, 73, left Newcastle to become Archbishop of Perth in 2005, and retired early from the post in 2017, just after the Royal Commission conducted its hearings in Newcastle. He did not appear at the hearing and sent no representative to speak on his behalf.
The Diocese of Newcastle’s current bishop, Peter Stuart, said in a public statement, “The people, clergy, and bishops of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle profoundly regret the harm caused by people within the church and the failure of those with responsibility within the church to prevent that harm.
“The diocese, and its schools and agencies, are focused on ensuring it provides excellent service to the people it supports, especially children and vulnerable people. It is committed to assuring the people we support of their physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and moral safety. The diocese is committed to providing redress to people who were harmed.”