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Royal Commission: Bishop Philip Newell denies abuse cover-up -

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MARK COLVIN: At the child sexual abuse Royal Commission hearings in Hobart, a former Anglican bishop of Tasmania has denied both joking about little boys with sore bottoms, and covering up complaints against a priest in the 1980s.

But Philip Newell was forced to concede that he had failed to remove the priest from duties involving young boys.

He admitted that that was "a very serious oversight".

Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Royal Commission is examining how the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania handled allegations priests were sexually abusing boys in the 1980s.

One priest, Louis Daniels, was eventually convicted and jailed for the sexual abuse of 11 boys. He settled a civil claim brought by a 12th boy.

Witness Sue Clayton, a former lay reader of the Church, has told the Commission that in 1987, she accompanied two boys to a meeting with the then-Bishop of Tasmania, Philip Newell.

The boys reported to him they had been sexually abused by Daniels. Ms Clayton gave evidence that Bishop Newell responded to the boys with sensitivity.

But she said he told her the police need not be informed of the complaint because it only involved "fondling", and he directed her not to speak to anyone about the allegations.

Today Bishop Newell rejected her account.

PHILIP NEWELL: I had indicated, at least to two of the boys, if not the third, that this really was a crime that should be reported to the police and they did not want me to do it.

NAOMI SHARP: Are you sure that you suggested to those boys that it should be reported to the police?


NAOMI SHARP: Is it possible that you asked those boys not to report the matter to police?

PHILIP NEWELL: Totally impossible.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Sue Clayton has given evidence that she told Bishop Newell Daniels needed to be removed from any role with the Church of England Boys' Society, or CEBS, and other roles which would bring him into contact with young boys.

Bishop Philip Newell told the commission today he believed he had done so.

PHILIP NEWELL: I don't recall anything other than re-examining him and taking his word. At that stage I still found it difficult to believe that a trusted priest of mine would lie to me.

I was wrong about that, and I know now that he repeatedly lied to me.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp showed Bishop Newell minutes of a meeting of the CEBS Council of Tasmania from February 1988, more than six months after he'd heard the boys' complaints.

NAOMI SHARP: Minutes indicate that the Bishop extended a welcome, and that of course would be you.


NAOMI SHARP: Mr Daniels was in attendance?

PHILIP NEWELL: I'm staggered at it.

NAOMI SHARP: It was moved that the Reverend Lou Daniels and someone else be made life vice-presidents of the society in Tasmania, that motion was carried with acclamation.

So steps had not been taken-

PHILIP NEWELL: To see that he had-

NAOMI SHARP: Over six months later, to ensure that Mr Daniels had ceased his involvements in CEBS, that's correct, isn't it?

PHILIP NEWELL: I can't go and say no, the evidence is there.

NAOMI SHARP: Was your stated requirement to him in June 1987 to step down his involvement in CEBS and all youth work in the diocese nothing more than lip service?

PHILIP NEWELL: I would contest that, I myself would see it as a failure to recognise that I had not checked sufficiently that he had resigned from this, because I - that's inexplicable.

I have no excuse to offer.

NAOMI SHARP: Did you stop at that time and give any thought for how this acclamation may have affected the victims who had complained to you about six months earlier?

PHILIP NEWELL: I couldn't have given any proper consideration to the consequences of that.

NAOMI SHARP: And that was a very serious oversight, was it not?

PHILIP NEWELL: I would regard it, as I look it here, as a serious oversight.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The commission also heard today that a witness has contacted the inquiry alleging Bishop Newell was aware of rumours Daniels was sexually abusing boys as early as 1984 or ‘85.

Counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp told Bishop Newell the allegation was being made by a former girlfriend of his son.

NAOMI SHARP: She has given evidence that in the period 1984 and 1985, Christopher and his brothers would, in your presence, occasionally talk about Louis Daniels and 'CEBS with sore bottoms', and you would shoosh them, and say 'come boys, let's not have that at the dinner table'.

PHILIP NEWELL: I don't believe it, it's not an expression that would have been at all acceptable, but I don't believe that that occurred.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Royal Commission hearings continue in Hobart tomorrow.

MARK COLVIN: Samantha Donovan.