Archbishop 'Failed to Act' on Sex Abuse
By Tony Koch
November 11, 2006
The Anglican Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, has been accused of failing to act on evidence of child sexual abuse by the victim of a pedophile priest who was jailed this week.
The Queensland man, who was sexually abused over three years as a teenager by the priest, claimed Archbishop Aspinall did not tell police about an incriminating letter he was sent in 2002 -- just four months after he was appointed head of the Brisbane diocese.
On Thursday, Robert Francis Sharwood, 62, was sentenced in the Brisbane District Court to two years and nine months' jail, suspended after he served a year.
A jury found him guilty of sodomy, allowing sodomy and sexual assault of the victim between 1974 and 1976.
The victim, now a 46-year-old university lecturer, was first abused as a 13-year-old music student when Sharwood was working in Brisbane as a 30-year-old curate.
Evidence was given that Sharwood "groomed" and seduced the boy, picking him up at the bus-stop most school days and having oral and masturbatory sex with him on 300 occasions.
The June 26, 2002 letter, which referred to an incident at a local parish for which Sharwood had apologised to the victim's parents, was sent to Archbishop Aspinall by priest Thomas Hood, who was protesting against Sharwood's sacking as the chaplain at the prestigious Brisbane Anglican private boys school, Churchie, where he had worked since 1985.
In the letter, Canon Hood informed Archbishop Aspinall he had been visited by Sharwood.
Hood wrote that Bishop Ralph Winks and Canon James Warner "investigated the incident that occurred when Robert (Sharwood) was at Sherwood parish which resulted in a good deal of counselling for both Robert and (the victim). "I knew (the victim's) parents very well. They were members of the church and they later forgave Robert.
"There obviously was confession, absolution and restoration. Later I celebrated the wedding service of (the victim) and Robert celebrated the Holy Communion. I am at loss to understand why the mistake which happened so long ago should now be the subject of Robert's dismissal from Churchie as there were no other incidents at any time, to my knowledge."
Hood and the senior clerics did not report the crime to police.
Archbishop Aspinall - appointed Primate in September last year - yesterday conceded he had not referred the 2002 letter to police, with the victim only learning of its existence 18 months later when he obtained it in the legal discovery process.
But he insisted he and the church had acted in accordance with police requests.
"Police request us to deal with this information in a particular way. They say report the matter to them as soon as it comes to you and hold all the information you have in a file together, keep it secure and when we want the information we will come and get it. That is exactly what we did in this instance," he said.
But the victim, still a churchgoer, said Archbishop Aspinall should have told him about the letter. "Archbishop Aspinall did not disclose in all our meetings that he had that letter.
"It would have been reasonable for him to mention that he had a letter about the abuse and that it said both my parents knew.
"My wife and I did not know that my parents knew.
"Had we known that in 2002, we could have succeeded in our civil action against the church, because my mother was alive then and could have given evidence."
Just four days before receiving Hood's letter, Archbishop Aspinall, in his presidential address to the Synod of the Brisbane diocese, vowed to tackle child sex abuse in the church head on. "The only way we can move on is if we face the hurtful reality of what has happened, extend care and support to those harmed and take steps to ensure as far as possible that it never happens again," he said.
During the trial, Sharwood's lawyers accused the victim's wife, a prominent Queensland rural journalist, of inciting her husband to make a complaint against Sharwood as part of a concerted attack on the church and then Governor-General Peter Hollingworth, who was forced to resign in May 2003 after less than two years in the vice-regal post.
The journalist was instrumental in exposing claims of abuse at an Anglican school in regional Queensland which led to criticisms Dr Hollingworth had failed to act with compassion when confronted with abuse claims.
The Brisbane diocese was ordered to pay a record $834,000 in damages to a former pupil who had suffered abuse at the school in 1990.
Archbishop Aspinall, who replaced Dr Hollingworth as Archbishop of Brisbane in 2002, quickly moved to distance himself from his predecessor who was accused of mishandling sex abuse claims during his 10 years as head of the diocese.
Archbishop Aspinall apologised to victims and conceded his church had not adequately dealt with complaints of abuse, introducing new protocols for reporting sex allegations to police.
Archbishop Aspinall also confirmed yesterday that in recent months the church had received complaints from two other men who also claimed they were abused by Sharwood when they were boys.
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