Seeking the Truth

The Advertiser [Australia]
July 11, 2003

An independent inquiry has been announced into the handling of child sex-abuse complaints within the Anglican Church. COLIN JAMES reports on what it is likely to examine.

ANGLICAN Archbishop of Adelaide Ian George has opened the proverbial can of worms by agreeing to hold an inquiry into his diocese's handling of child sex complaints. The inquiry is modelled on an independent investigation in which resulted in the resignation of governor-general Peter Hollingworth formerly Archbishop George's equivalent in .

Among those wanting to give evidence to the two-person inquiry are former employees of the church's administrative division, Anglicare. What they and other witnesses are planning to say has the potential to wreak havoc through the upper echelons of the Anglican Church in .

At least two Anglicare employees will present evidence detailing how allegations that its former campsite manager, Robert Brandenburg, was a serial pedophile were first brought to the church's attention in 1993 and again in 1998 but no action was taken.

"The whole matter was dealt with very inappropriately," one of the employees has told The Advertiser. "I want justice to be done as enough people have suffered.

"I have names of people who I think should be interviewed and hope that this matter comes totally out into the open.

"I have been scared for a long time, too afraid to tell anyone other than my therapist. The worst part of all of this is that Mr Brandenburg's office where he took boys, apart from the campsites, was directly across the passageway from the Emergency Foster Care office that was supposedly looking after children who needed help."

The Anglicare employee's claims have been corroborated by another former employee. He attended a meeting with in 1998, where he was presented with a 30-page report detailing allegations he was a pedophile who had abused boys at Anglican campsites. vehemently denied he had sexually abused members of the ' Society. According to the second employee, he was allowed to return to his duties.

The two employees will be supported by letters sent to the Anglican hierarchy between 1999 and last year by an Anglican priest, the Rev Don Owers. The correspondence between Mr Owers, Archbishop George and his former deputy, now the Archbishop of Brisbane, Phillip Aspinall, raised concerns that could have sexually abused more than 200 boys during a 40-year association with the ' Society before he killed himself in 1999.

Mr Owers repeatedly asked Archbishop George and then-Bishop Aspinall to issue a media release naming as a pedophile and calling for victims to come forward so they could receive counselling. Archbishop Aspinall already has publicly confirmed no release was issued, on the advice of the church's lawyers and insurers.

Mr Owers eventually went public last month with his concerns, working closely with victims of and other Anglican churchmen to call for the inquiry announced yesterday by Archbishop George.

The church's response to his letters will be a key focus of the forthcoming six-month investigation by retired Supreme Court judge Justice Trevor Olsson and University of South Australia academic Dr Donna Chung.

The pair also will be asked to examine earlier confrontations between and church figures over his activities. In 1981, he was involved in an undisclosed incident at a national CEBS camp at Morphett Vale.

According to handwritten notes of a top-level Anglican meeting in December, 2000, was replaced as chief commissioner for CEBS following the incident.

"BB replaced as commissioner after incidents at national camp. Replaced on pretext of alcohol abuse," say the notes, obtained by The Advertiser.

repeatedly broke the rules he detailed in a manual he wrote for CEBS leaders in 1968. He had been abusing young boys from as early as 1963. He wrote the manual two years after an 18-year-old, John Hennigan, died from an asthma attack while attending a national camp in with and other Adelaide CEBS members.

In the manual, advised all CEBS leaders to get insurance policies to cover themselves against claims for negligence. He also warned against being found alone with any individual CEBS members. "It would be extremely unwise to find yourself in the position of being in any building or place with any one member of the branch," he wrote. "You must also take care that you do not place yourself in any situation that could be misconstrued".

It was not advice either or some other CEBS leaders followed. More than 65 victims have contacted a special church hotline in the past month to detail allegations of sexual abuse. They have named 17 individuals who were part of CEBS or other sections of the Anglican Church in .

A special police taskforce is examining the allegations to determine whether criminal charges should be laid. With new legislation enabling the prosecution of sexual offences committed before 1982, some of the Anglican churchmen could end up before the courts.

While the police are busy interviewing victims, Justice Olsson and Dr Chung will examine how the church responded to complaints about child sex abuse. Among those wanting to testify are the parents of a boy who was molested at an Anglican camp at Mylor, , the gates of which are dedicated to the memory of John Hennigan.

The couple complained in the early 1970s to a parish priest, a bishop of who is dead and to police but no action was taken.

Other victims want to relate how they telephoned a child sex-abuse hotline announced by Archbishop George in February last year. They left detailed messages but never heard back from anyone in the church.


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