Former Bishop of Newcastle, Brian Farran, made media waves in his time.
The priest, John Gumbley, was dating a woman from the parish.
This alone was enough for Farran to destroy Gumbley’s career.
When it came to defrocking Graeme Lawrence for sexual assault allegations, however, Farran wasn’t so quick to act.
Lawrence was Farran’s friend.
It took months for Farran to act after the Professional Standards Board recommended he defrock Lawrence.
Bishop Brian Farran stalled the punishment of men like Graeme Lawrence, Andrew Duncan, Bruce Hoare and Graeme Sturt, who were accused of having a joint sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy in 1982.
Farran wanted to protect his friends and the reputation of the church rather than protecting the defenceless young children under the power of these criminals.
Despite being aware in 2005 that two members of his Diocese had sexually abused children, Farran chose not to ask questions. He also chose not to review the Diocese’s ‘yellow envelopes’ that documented past complaints against its clergy, which he understood to contain complaints of child sexual abuse. This was a crime against his position and his responsibility to the community.
Bishop Farran studied at St John’s Seminary training college in Morpeth throughout the 1960s.The school has been nicknamed “Satan’s Playground” in Royal Commission hearings – at least half a dozen child sex offenders studied there.
He was ordained in 1968 and served various small roles before becoming Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Rockhampton in 1983.
He later served as Assistant Bishop to the Diocese of Perth. In 2005, he became the diocesan Bishop of Newcastle.
Farran had decades of service and knowledge under his belt before uncovering the despicable crimes of Father Peter Rushton in 2010.
Rushton served the Newcastle Diocese from 1963 until his death in 2007. He abused countless children across Cessnock, Wyong, Weston, Wallsend, Lake Macquarie and Maitland.
He died without ever being punished for his crimes.
Farran claimed he had a “lack of corporate memory” and took so long to come forward because his “knowledge of these things may well have gone out the door.”
These sickly statements strike genuine fury into victims and their families.
Bishop Farran publicly apologised to Rushton’s victims and encouraged more to contact the church/police. He recognised the devastation Rushton had caused.
Farran had access to documented complaints against Rushton – including Rushton’s possession of child pornography in 1998. And he knew in 2005 that these ‘yellow envelopes’ included complaints of sexual abuse by clergy. Yet, under Farran’s leadership, Rushton continued to be allowed to officiate in the Diocese until his death in 2007.
Farran continued the decades of impotent leadership by the Diocese, which allowed Rushton to die unpunished for his crimes.
In 2012, Farran’s longtime friend, Dean Graeme Lawrence, faced child sex abuse allegations.
The victim – known only as “CKH” – claimed Lawrence made him touch his penis in 1979 when he was just 15 years old. Lawrence then pursued a sexual relationship with him for years.
CKH claimed he had three-way sex with Lawrence and his partner Greg Coyette in 1982 at the church rectory and, on another occasion, had drunken group sex with Lawrence, Andrew Duncan, Bruce Hoare and Graeme Sturt in a hotel room.
Years later, CKH realised the relationship was wrong and contacted Griffith Police in 2009. He was told he didn’t have enough evidence to press charges.
In 2016, he shared his allegations with the Royal Commission.
“What astounds me now is that these abusers could believe that it was okay to take responsibility for my sexual awakening and development when they had been entrusted with my pastoral care,” CKH told The Commission.
The Professional Standards Board recommended Farran defrock Lawrence, Duncan, Hoare and Sturt in light of the allegations.
Astonishingly, Farran didn’t want to defrock these sexually abusive priests.
“He was concerned about parish members and their faith and how it would affect them in attending the church,” CKH said.
Farran spoke with the Board in May and failed to defrock the priests until September.
Bishop Brian Farran has apologised to victims again and again, but his friendship with priests like Lawrence clouded his judgment and he must live with his decision to abuse his power and choose the protection of a criminal over the protection of the children under his care in the community.
He avoided punishing these men because they were his friends.
A friendship is not worth covering up child sexual abuse.
Feature Image: Newcastle Herald