Crimes of the Cross by Anne Manne

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The sub-title for this meticulously researched book tells it all – The Anglican Paedophile Network of Newcastle, Its Protectors and the Man Who Fought for Justice.  The man at the heart of the book who fought for justice is Steve Smith – a survivor of years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Anglican clergy in the Diocese of Newcastle.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse [from 2013 to 2018] examined the extent of child sexual abuse within a broad range of institutions across Australia including the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.  That diocese was the subject of the Commission’s Case Study No 42.  As important and as eye-opening the Case Study and its findings were, Anne Manne’s book takes a slightly different approach.  Her focus and one which personalises the extent and impact of child sexual abuse is one courageous survivor – Steve Smith.  Steve refused to accept the continued brush-offs, lies and obfuscations and, as we find out later, threats of physical harm directed at him by clergy members of the ‘paedophile network’ in place in Newcastle and their supporters.  Instead Steve fought to achieve some measure of justice for himself and his younger brother.

But as courageous and persistent as Steve was, he struggled in the face of disinterest while coping with his own demons – the consequences of the abuse.  And it was not until 2009 when he met Michael Elliott the newly appointed Director of Professional Standards that Steve had found an advocate who was prepared not only to support him but also to confront the network and all its machinations.

As critical as Michael Elliott’s role was in bringing about justice for Steve and many others like him, the starting point for any process to address the abuse rests with the victims and their courage to come forward and tell their stories.  One significant finding of the Royal Commission was that in the Anglican Church the average length of time for victims to come forward was twenty-seven years.  Twenty-seven years in total and each of them necessary for victims to overcome their feelings of shame, of being blamed for the abuse, a very real fear of not being believed, of being dismissed out-of-hand, and even of being threatened.  The consequential impact of child sexual abuse often includes fractured relationships with parents and siblings, with partners and children, struggles with alcohol and drugs, and estrangement from friends and support networks.  Victims are obliged to deal with these real-life consequences of the abuse before they can consider how and when to approach the church – the very place where the abuse took place.

But it is within Part Four of the book titled ‘Backlash’ and more specifically Chapter 16 ‘Unleash the Dogs of War’ that the author spells out the extent to which the guilty clergy and their supporters would go in attempting to derail the professional standards processes.  Steve Smith arrived home one day to find ‘a bullet on his front step’ [177] and one night received ‘almost fifty abusive and threatening text messages’ [177].  But some actions were much worse – on one occasion, Steve was driving his car and discovered that ‘all the screws on his back wheels had been loosened’ [180]; Michael Elliott’s car window was smashed in and a screw driven into a tyre; the family’s pet dog disappeared and was never found.  During this period, Michael Elliott filed twelve police reports dealing with threatening phone calls and texts, including death threats as well as forty incidents of vandalism to cars [181].

In August 2016 the Royal Commission began its hearing into the Diocese in the Newcastle Courthouse.  In Part Five, the author forensically sets out the details of the hearing and how ‘the royal commission sent shivers down the spine of many clergy and laity in the diocese’ [230].  For the courageous survivor – Steve Smith – the royal commission was ‘an extraordinary vindication’ [283].  As he said ‘is something is wrong, it’s wrong.  You have just got to go on fighting.  Don’t ever give up’ [293].

Anne Manne has written an extraordinary book which sets out the extent of the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by a group of clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle – and the steps to which the clergy and their lay supporters would go to protect their reputations.  The author’s intent in writing this book was to ‘shine light on the dark areas of human life, but above all to bear witness to the stories of survivors’ [ 296].  Her intent has been achieved admirably.  The extensive research undertaken by the author is reflected in the Notes and Index to the book.  Anne Manne interviewed survivors, police, clergy and laity in her exploration of the ‘Paedophile Network of Newcastle’ and consequently provides deep insights into – inter alia – ‘the minds and strategies of abusers’ and the courage of survivors in striving for justice.

Crimes of the Cross is a book which will stay with the reader for a long time.  While the extent – and depths – of the child sexual abuse by clergy and their callous disregard for the children and young people they abused is confronting and challenging, it is critical ‘to shine a light’ on the abuse to ensure that it is less likely to ever happen again.

Crimes of the Cross

[2024]

by Anne Manne

Black Inc Books

ISBN 978 186395 968 1

$36.99; 336pp

 

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