Anglican bishop 'embarrassed' by dud abuse hotline number

''I can only express that I am highly embarrassed by that."
''I can only express that I am highly embarrassed by that." Photo credit: RNZ.

By Andrew McRae of RNZ

A disconnected telephone helpline, missing files that detailed sexual abuse, and a serious lack of training were some of the Anglican Church's more embarrassing admissions at Thursday's redress hearing of the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry.

The Anglican Bishop of Christchurch also revealed that around 30 former students of Christ's College have now come forward to complain about their treatment.

The session saw leaders of two of the country's diocese challenged on how well their church has reacted to neglect and abuse.

Auckland Anglican Bishop Ross Bay was put on the spot first by Commission counsel, Katherine Anderson.

She questioned him on a phone number on church posters people can call to report abuse.

''Are you confident that if you dialled that now that you would get the Diocesan manager?''

"Yes," replied the Bishop.

''I just want to test that, because would it surprise you to know that when we (the Commission) have dialled that number it goes through to a number unobtainable?''

Bay said that would surprise him.

Anderson that asked the Bishop to pull out his phone and call the number.

''The number you have dialled is not currently allocated to a phone. Please check the number and redial,'' came the recorded message broadcast to the hearing room.

''I can only express that I am highly embarrassed by that,'' said Bay.

The record keeping on complaints of abuse in the Auckland Diocese also came under scrutiny.

Bay was forced to admit that sexual harassment correspondence around the mid-1990s was now missing.

''So the files that are now in the archives and I don't know if the Bishop of the time held them for a period but this was in the file box in archives and there was a note in the file box to say this particular file was missing.''

Former student at Christ's College, Jim Goodwin, reported in 2020 to the Inquiry into Abuse into Care that he was sexually abused by three older boys.

Anglican Church Bishop of Christchurch Peter Carrell, who is on the Anglican school's board, said that testimony had triggered others to come forward.

''I seem to recall a figure around maybe 30 communications to the school. I'm not sure that all of them in effect represent a complaint but they do represent an unsatisfactory experience of life at the school.''

Goodwin said he believed the figure was nearer to 80, but understood some put their experience down to the rough and tumble of boarding school.

The Anglican Church's Christchurch diocese has a number of entities under its umbrella and overseen by the Bishop.

These include schools, halls of residence, and Anglican Care.

Carrell said he completely acknowledged he had not done due diligence on every organisation that is associated with his diocese.

''I have trusted that schools for instance, Anglican Care entities are following best practice.''

Carrell was asked by Commission counsel Simon Mount QC about specific training he and his church had undertaken to respond to claims of abuse.

''Safeguarding or child protection principles as part of the induction of a new bishop?

''No, no specific training on those,'' said Carrell

''Trauma informed practice from the perspective of an abuse survivor.''

''No specific guidance on that.''

''Any guidance from the church about how to respond to claims of abuse?''

''No particular guidance.''

Bishop Carrell denies the church ignored overseas studies on abuse numbers and the possible scale of it in this country.

But did accept there had been failures.

''We should ask ourselves, perhaps with some outside guidance and research not only have we missed something but have we not communicated well to those who are survivors from those era who may have wanted to complain and felt they couldn't, didn't know how or intimidated into not complaining.''

On record keeping, he told the Royal Commission that he was not sure why documents, interview notes were shredded at the end of a complaints process.

He said he was aware, but it may be anecdotal that former Bishop Allan Pyatt had a bonfire and destroyed files.

Simon Mount asked Carrell if he believed it was unsatisfactory to think that potentially nearly 20 years' worth of records would have been destroyed in a deliberate way.

''Yes,'' he said.

Mount asked him that if there was a big bow wave of complaints from the 70s and 80s, potentially the 20-year period under Bishop Pyatt could be a very large hole in the church's records of response to abuse.

''Well, it could be,'' replied Carrell.

Bishop Carell will finish his evidence before the Royal Commission on Friday and will be followed by one of the three Primates of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Philip Richardson.

The Catholic Church and its response to redress will go under the microscope starting on Monday afternoon.