Outcry as Melbourne’s Anglican Church sexual abuse reviews drag on

The Australian [Surry Hills, Australia]

February 5, 2023

By John Ferguson

A judge-led review of the Anglican diocese of Melbourne’s professional standards framework that investigated whether its response to sex abuse and other complaints was quick enough has been quietly warehoused by the church at the same time as it is embroiled in a messy five-year delay over whether to defrock ­former governor-general Peter Hollingworth.

The diocese of Melbourne was handed the review findings in April last year into its professional standards legislation but is not set to formally act on any reforms until at least October this year, further angering survivors who have for years been denied a ruling on Dr Hollingworth’s place in the church.

The glacial response comes as Dr Hollingworth is due to face the church’s independent professional standards board this week, in secret, to defend claims he bungled the handling of the child sex abuse response while he was archbishop of Brisbane and in his responses while governor-general.

Queensland Police have reopened an investigation into former governor-general Peter Hollingworth. A… spokesperson confirmed they had received new information about his response to an abuse claim while he was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane in the 1990s. Authorities are investigating whether he could be charged as an accessory More

The diocese of Melbourne agreed in 2021 to set up a review panel of its professional standards framework headed by retired Supreme Court judge David Harper to examine whether the church law and the broader system were working efficiently.

The church said the review had examined the work of the Professional Standards Uniform Act 2016, which set up the framework for how the church enabled complaints to be investigated: “The panel’s terms of reference included whether the overriding purposes of the (act) remained appropriate and if they are, how they may best be achieved.

“The first of these purposes is to enable complaints to be dealt with justly, quickly and inexpensively.”

The church said the Harper-led review would be put to the diocesan synod in October, the first opportunity for the church to act, which is an 18-month delay. “The Hollingworth process is being conducted by Kooyoora which is, properly, entirely independent of the diocese and the Archbishop (Philip Freier) cannot comment on that,’’ a spokesman said.

Kooyoora was incorporated six years ago as an independent not-for-profit company to provide professional standards and other services to charities, including charities that are Anglican dioceses, entities, colleges and schools.

Adjunct professor Chris Goddard, of UniSA, said these delays and those relating to the Hollingworth allegations were untenable.

Anti-abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston said the church’s pursuit of the Hollingworth matters had been appallingly slow and damaging to survivors. “It’s glacial, absolutely glacial,” Ms Johnston said.

The Hollingworth tribunal has been earmarked to run behind closed doors in Melbourne this week but the process remains shrouded in secrecy, with key players being told limited information about how it will work, who has been investigated and who will appear.

Dr Hollingworth was never an abuser but was savaged over his handling of the crisis when archbishop of Brisbane and through his commentary when governor-­general.

He now lives in Melbourne.

His critics say there is already enough public evidence to remove him from his church, including that he allowed a pedophile priest in 1993 to continue to work against a specialist’s advice, for giving incorrect evidence to a 2002 abuse inquiry and blaming a victim of child sex abuse for encouraging the offending.

Dr Hollingworth resigned as governor-general in 2003 after he was criticised at a Brisbane inquiry for his handling of alle­gations of child-sex abuse against pedophile priest John Linton ­Elliot. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found he had made an error of judgment by allowing ­Elliot to stay in the ministry.

Secrecy around the Victorian process means it is not clear exactly what will be considered in Melbourne this week but survivor Beth Heinrich’s complaint has been examined by investigators.

The plight of Ms Heinrich, now living in country Victoria and aged in her 80s, became public when Dr Hollingworth publicly commented on the case.

Ms Heinrich said she was sexually abused by late Anglican bishop Donald Shearman, who was later deposed from holy orders. She said Shearman had formed a sexual relationship with her when she was sent to a church hostel.

The ABC reported Dr Hollingworth saying about 30 years ago: “There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that; quite the contrary. My information is that it was rather the other way around.’’