Registrar 'more concerned for finances than abuse victims'

"REMARKABLE and distressing" is how a former Anglican chaplain has described the way she saw members of the Grafton diocese respond to claims of child sex abuse.

Jennifer Woodhouse told the royal commission former Grafton diocese registrar Pat Comben suggested it would be "better off for Grafton" if child abuse survivor Richard "Tommy" Campion was offered up to $50,000 in compensation rather than the opportunity to tell his story to an independent panel of professionals.

Ms Woodhouse first met Mr Campion when he brought allegations of abuse at the Lismore-based home to the attention of the Grafton diocese in 2005.

She said she was asked by Mr Comben how "we dealt with the issue of paying for counselling in Sydney" and she explained that, in Sydney, the Church would continue to pay for counselling for ten sessions and then, if the counsellor or victim thought it was necessary, another ten sessions would be paid for.

She told the commission that Sydney claims of abuse were dealt with by speaking with a claimant and given them the chance to speak to a panel of professionals outside the church and be believed - a process which she felt was vital for rehabilitation.

When she heard Mr Comben had offered Mr Campion between $45,000 and 50,000 before he was given that opportunity, Ms Woodhouse suggested "fairly strongly that would not be a good way to proceed".

She said it would have meant the registrar of the diocese with the bishop's permission would have been determining an amount of money at a local level without taking into account the "psychological, emotional and spiritual impact the abuse had on Mr Campion".

Her concerns continued when Mr Comben, who when the claims were first aired in 2005 expressed deep sympathy and revulsion for abuse suffered by victims, changed his tune.

She described the first response as "caring and warm" but said she found it remarkable and distressing that by 2006, after Mr Campion had unearthed several other victims, Mr Comben appeared "more concerned about the finances of the dioceses than he did about the many people who had been abused at the North Coast Church of England Children's Home".

When she spoke to Mr Campion about the "completely different responses" she found his mental health was in "very poor condition".

She understood that as an abuse survivor from childhood, the biggest difficulty Mr Campion would have had was trust and having the Church treating him "in such different ways" would have badly impacted his trust once again.

At a later meeting with former Grafton Bishop Keith Slater, Ms Woodhouse said she recalled Mr Campion said he had at least six others who were keen to "speak up" about abuse suffered at the home but that they would only do so if Mr Comben was not involved.

She said Bishop Slater "nodded" and said something along the lines of he would think about how he could make that happen.

When Mr Campion was formally offered compensation, Bishop Slater allegedly suggested in a letter that if he accepted the money he would, in a way, be "betraying the other victims".

Ms Woodhouse said she was surprised the bishop felt "he could be the judge" and said the language "obviously plays upon a victim's sense of being betrayed by the Church" and she didn't feel it was right that the head of the diocese had suggested "the victim himself may have become a betrayer".

The hearings continue.  


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