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$200m in assets, but church couldn't find $4m for victims

Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. Circa 1970. Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. Circa 1970. Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

THE Grafton Anglican Diocese had access to more than $200 million in assets when it refused to pay out less than $4 million to victims of child sex abuse, the royal commission has heard.

The revelation came just moments before former registrar Pat Comben surprisingly announced he had voluntarily relinquished holy orders and was no longer a reverend of the Anglican Church.

During yesterday's cross-examination, Mr Comben, who last week told the commission the diocese had felt threatened by the "scary" group claim being brought by former residents of Lismore's North Coast Children's Home, was quizzed about a significant jump in the diocese's recorded equity between 2005 and 2007.

Mr Comben described the diocese as being "asset rich but cash poor" and said the jump could be attributed to a change in bookkeeping that included insurance, property and equipment values.

He said he was aware the diocese had money tied up in assets, including a deceased estate valued between $7 million and $8 million that had been bequeathed to the church by a member from Port Macquarie.

Pat Comben
Pat Comben Adam Hourigan

Asked whether he could understand that given the church's financial basis, some may have considered that the diocese had been parsimonious in settling the claims, Mr Comben said "yes" but stressed many of the assets were not "easily available" for liquidation.

He also defended his prior lack of knowledge about the region's assets by saying that before he transferred from Brisbane, he "didn't know where Grafton was".

The commission heard that after a settlement (about $820,000) was reached with victims, Mr Comben wrote a letter of apology to original claimant Richard "Tommy" Campion.

In the letter, Mr Comben apologised for "many accusations of deceit" he had directed at Mr Campion over the years.

Mr Comben said he wrote those words not because he believed in his heart that he had made such accusations, but because he thought that's what Mr Campion believed and he wanted to provide him with closure.

When it was put to him that "any reasonable reader" would not understand that it was an apology based on Mr Campion's beliefs and not what actually occurred, Mr Comben dramatically responded that he had lied in one sentence but was happy to apologise.

"If that is my crime, I plead guilty, " he said.

During the final hour of Monday's hearing, former Grafton Bishop Keith Slater was sworn in.

He is expected to return to the stand on Tuesday followed by former archdeacon Gregory Ezzy and Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia Rev Dr Phillip Aspinall.  

Topics:  editors picks, north coast children's home, royal commission


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