Churches Can't Eradicate Abuse, Former Archbishop Says

By Graham Downie
The Canberra Times

July 28, 2008

Even with psychological testing and background screening of clergy, churches could not guarantee sexual abuse would not occur, former Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide Ian George has said in Canberra.

He described as a worthy aspiration demands that the Church prevent any further abuse. Though there was now zero tolerance of abuse, "I suppose, sadly, it will happen", he said.

The first thing the Church had learned about abuse was that it happened. "For a very long time, that wasn't seriously believed," he said. In the past it had been either not believed or dismissed.

"We recognise now it is a serious problem.

"If we are to be believed and to be a credible part of the community, then we have got to get our house in order."

But the Church had put so much time into this matter over the past 10 years or so that many other important issues could not be attended to, including the role of women, housing people on low incomes, and the plight of refugees, he said.

Archbishop George was rector of St John the Baptist, Reid, from 1981 until 1989 when he was appointed Assistant Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. He was elected Archbishop of Adelaide in 1991.

He laughed heartily when asked if his election to Adelaide had been a poison chalice. Then reflected, "Interesting question."

A board of inquiry into the handling of claims of sexual abuse and misconduct within the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide found the Church was more focused on protecting itself than on protecting victims of sexual abuse.

The report effectively led to Archbishop George's resignation shortly before he was to have retired.

The lengthy report traced moves by the Adelaide Diocese since the early 1990s to address and combat sexual abuse and detailed major failings of those procedures which contributed to paedophiles continuing to abuse children in church schools and institutions. The report was very critical of church officials who disbelieved and threatened victims and who failed to keep proper records of complaints.

In Canberra last week, Archbishop George said that not long after arriving in Adelaide he had realised the Church had nothing in place to deal with sexual abuse. A long-drawn-out process, in which lessons had been learned from the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, had established state-of-the-art procedures to help people who had been abused.

"The blow-up which occurred in 2003 and 2004 was really about stuff that had occurred years before."

The inquiry had been meant to make recommendations about improving procedures. Most of those recommendations had been already in place. He said the inquiry had exceeded its brief and included errors of fact and interpretation which had not been tested.

"I resigned because I could see there was a terrible division imminent," he said.


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