Royal commission hears of harrowing evidence of rape in Newcastle Anglican Diocese

More than 30 years of child sexual abuse by clergy and lay members of various Anglican parishes have been laid bare on the opening day of the royal commission's two-week hearing into the Anglican diocese of Newcastle.

In her opening address, counsel assisting the commission Naomi Sharp outlined allegations against various church figures – some of them dead, others alive and still fighting to stay out of jail.

Some of the abuse took place at St Alban's Home for Boys at Cessnock, which was run by the church.

A number of the clerics involved had all studied together at St John's Theological College at Morpeth. Some went on to hold senior positions in a clique of power that centred on the city's Christ Church Cathedral. And as Ms Sharp recounted, these same men were even made members of committees or other church bodies charged with overseeing the response to the child sexual abuse scandal when it finally arose to public controversy.

The first two witnesses – abuse survivors Paul Gray and Phillip D'Ammond – gave shocking first-hand accounts of the crimes detailed earlier in the day by the counsel assisting.

Mr Gray told the commission he had been abused for more than four years by Anglican priest Peter Rushton and others. Rushton retired as Archdeacon of Maitland in 2001 and died in 2007 without any charges against him, although the diocese has since acknowledged him as a sex offender.

Mr Gray told the commission he had been anally raped by Rushton at the age of 10.

"On many of these occasions, Father Rushton would cut my back with a small knife and smear my blood on my back," Mr Gray said.

"That was actually symbolic of the blood of Christ," Mr Gray said.

"After sexual intercourse, he would clean my wounds with white towels. In the church, there were often occasions when Father Rushton would ask me to perform oral sex on him".

Rushton was his godfather.

Mr Gray broke down twice giving his evidence – with the commission adjourning the second time for him to compose himself – but he told Commissioner Peter McClellan that he "had to" keep speaking.

He told how Rushton took him to St Alban's boys home at Cessnock, where he was repeatedly raped by various men.

The second witness, Phillip D'Ammond, described his abuse at the hands of lay church figure, James Michael Brown, who was convicted in 2011 of 27 charges of child sexual abuse involving 19 male victims and sentenced to 20 years' jail, with 12 years non-parole.

Mr D'Ammond, who was fostered and subsequently placed at St Alban's, said he was 13 years old when Brown – a "fat" and "intimidating . . . six foot two tall" man first tried to have sex with him.

Tuesday's hearing resulted in a packed proceedings at the Newcastle Court House, with about 40 people overflowing into an anteroom with a video hook-up and transcripts for the media to work with.

The Anglican session is scheduled to run until August 12. Hearings into the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle – already the subject of a 2013 state inquiry by Margaret Cuneen – start on August 29.