Diocese 'hostile' in handling child abuse claims

VICTIMS of child sex abuse were met with hostility and denied compensation by a church that failed to discipline predator priests or report their actions to the police, a royal commission has found.

Almost a year after decades of abuse at Lismore's North Coast Children's home was uncovered at a series of hearings in Sydney, the commission has condemned the Anglican Diocese of Grafton for its handling of the claims which were dealt with "contrary to the spirit" of pastoral care guidelines.

The commission found the physical, psychological and sexual abuse suffered by children at the home had "profound, long-lasting impacts on their lives and mental health".

Last year's public hearings examined the response of senior Grafton clergy members to a group claim between 2005 and 2013.

Giving evidence before the commission, former Grafton registrar Pat Comben insisted that for much of that period, the diocese was asset rich but "cash poor".

But the commission found the church was able to find the funds for "other financial pressures", prioritising a $10 million debt at the Clarence Valley Anglican School over victim compensation.

A review of the church's dealings with former residents found compensation amounts offered to whistleblower Richard "Tommy" Campion and at least four others were "substantially lower" than if the claim had been resolved under the scheme adopted by the church in 2005 and that the diocese "misled" claimants that the scheme would be followed.

The commission found the Grafton and Newcastle dioceses failed to discipline paedophile priest Rev Allan Kitchingman, a former Lismore music teacher who was jailed in 2002 for sexually abusing a boy at a Ballina youth camp.

It found former Grafton Bishop Keith Slater and Mr Comben were both aware Kitchingman - who has since been removed from Holy Orders - had been convicted of sexual offences against a child but despite "having the authority" to take action against him, did not do so.

From 2005 to 2013 the Grafton Diocese took no action against two priests who had allegedly abused children at the home - Rev Campbell Brown and the late Rev Winston Morgan.

During the hearings former Grafton Professional Standards director Phillip Gerber told the commission he wished he had referred allegations in 2006 to the police and feared his silence may have "put other people at risk".

Former Bishop Slater was also found not to have referred allegations made by two of the claimants between 2011 and 2013 to police.

Allegations against Rev Brown, who is now aged in is 80s and reportedly suffers from dementia, are currently subject to a NSW Police investigation.

The commission recommended that the Grafton Diocese determine whether to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him.

It was noted that last year, the diocese published an apology, changed its processes and revised compensation and support for the home's former residents.

The full report, tabled in Federal Parliament on Monday, can be found at http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au.