THE University of Newcastle has revoked an honorary degree and a major award granted to the late Hunter priest Peter Brock after the Catholic Church substantiated child sex allegations against him.
The University Council on August 31 revoked an honorary degree awarded in 1987 and the Newton-John Award the priest received in 1989 after a complaint following Maitland-Newcastle diocese acknowledging in September, 2017 that Father Brock was the subject of substantiated abuse claims.
The university confirmed the decisions but declined to comment further. Father Brock’s name has been removed from a list of Newton-John award recipients since 1977 who have achieved excellence in arts, creative sectors and culture.
The priest, who died in September 2014, was elevated to a national Catholic Church role in 2010 after 26 child sex charges against him were withdrawn in 2009. Father Brock was made head of the church’s Year of Grace despite a mandatory church investigation report to the NSW Ombudsman after the charges were withdrawn substantiating abuse allegations by two Hunter men.
The church report found he “engaged in a range and pattern of behaviours” towards two boys between 1968 and 1975.
“That range and pattern of behaviour constituted sexual misconduct as defined by the NSW Ombudsman Act 1974,” the church investigation report found.
It’s obviously very upsetting for some survivors of abuse where people have been given awards for their work in one area, but they’ve also caused great harm to others.Lawyer John Ellis
Father Brock was the 15th recipient of the Newton-John award for his musical work including leading the university choir.
A university report of the 1989 award noted Emeritus Professor Brin Newton-John, after whom the award was named, established the choir and was delighted by the priest’s success.
Father Brock went on to receive an Order of Australia in 2007 for his services to music.
Lawyer John Ellis, who represented the two men whose abuse by Father Brock was substantiated by the diocese, said the university’s decisions were “very good news”.
Most institutions responded when his firm approached on behalf of survivors to seek removal of an offender’s name from honour boards or where buildings or wings had been named after them, Mr Ellis said.
“It’s obviously very upsetting for some survivors of abuse where people have been given awards for their work in one area, but they’ve also caused great harm to others,” Mr Ellis said.
“When institutions like the university respond it sends a message that it is inappropriate not to act based on all available information.”
Hunter survivor advocate Bob O’Toole said the university’s decisions, after he and others raised the issue, was “groundbreaking”.
“It’s significant because it’s the university accepting that with all the evidence available to it, Peter Brock was not an appropriate person to have received these awards,” Mr O’Toole said.