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Newcastle halts abuse case pending supreme court review: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 24, 2010 p 7. December 28, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper.

Dean Graeme Lawrence

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An Australian diocese has suspended disciplinary proceedings against the retired Dean of Newcastle pending a review by New South Wales Supreme Court.

On Dec 17 Justice Patricia Bergin accepted a petition from of the Very Rev. Graeme Lawrence and the Rev. Graeme Sturt, and agreed to schedule a February hearing to review their claim of misconduct by the diocesan Professional Standards Board.

The two are among five men, four priests and a church organist, who were brought up on charges before the Professional Standards Board for sexual abuse and misconduct.  On Dec 15, the board found that Dean Lawrence and his partner—church organist Gregory Goyette—had engaged in sexual relations with a 17 year old man at a church camp in 1984, and that Mr. Sturt had observed the act.

The board recommended Dean Lawrence and Mr. Sturt be defrocked and Mr. Goyette prevented from working in the church.

The alleged actions had “to do with breaches of trust and maintenance of standards and quality of pastoral relationships,” the Director of Professional Standards for the diocese, Michael Elliott stated.

“They also have to do with the restoration of confidence in the clergy that the community seeks,” Mr. Elliot said, according to local press accounts of the proceedings. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also reported the “proceedings against the former Dean and his partner have nothing to do with their sexual orientation.”

The accused had denied the allegations and have maintained their innocence.  Following the determination by the board, they filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it quash the recommendation that they be defrocked, declare the standards board failed to observe procedural fairness, and permanently restrain the diocese from giving legal effect to the determination.

The petitioners have also accused the standards board of setting itself up as a court competent to judge the accused, when it lacked the powers of a court or ability to gather and hear evidence.

On Dec 16, Bishop Brian Farran distanced himself from the board’s proceedings, writing his clergy the board was an advisory panel that was not under his direct control.

Dean Lawrence, who served as Dean of Newcastle for 25 years until his retirement in 2008, was a member of the Anglican Church of Australia General Synod Standing Committee task force that in 2003 created the recommendations for the current professional standards proceedings.

The 2003 Sexual Abuse Working Group recommended that the church change clergy disciplinary proceedings from an adversarial procedure involving a prosecution for an offence before a tribunal, to panel review process that looked at the fitness of the church worker to hold office.  The Standing Committee subsequently accepted these recommendations, which were subsequently adopted by the 2004 General Synod.

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