Anglicans challenge church fire sale to pay sex abuse victims

By Matthew Denholm
May 09, 2018

Elizabeth Turvey outside the Friends of St John the Baptist church in Buckland where she was christened and confirmed.
Photo by Rob Blakers

The Anglican Church has been ­accused of “emotional blackmail” after linking the unpopular sale of almost half of its churches in Tasmania with compensation for survivors of abuse by pedophile priests.

Bishop Richard Condie has released a list of 55 churches earmarked for sale, with 21 more to follow, and tied 25 per cent of the proceeds to a redress scheme for child sex abuse survivors.

However, many communities are in revolt over the plans and believe it is unfair and inappropriate to link the fire sale — of 76 of 156 Anglican churches in the state — to justice for abuse victims.

“It is blatant emotional blackmail,” said Angela Turvey, a member of Friends of St John the Baptist, a historic church in Buckland, northeast of Hobart, among those slated for sale.

“It is punishing communities around Tasmania for what the church was ultimately responsible for. That’s what insurance and liability is for. This is not the way to be redressing child sexual abuse.”

The state government also expressed concern and Treasurer Peter Gutwein said he had secured a meeting with the diocese to discuss issues such as public access to cemeteries and interment plots.

Bishop Condie said many Angli­cans were willing to pay for the sins of others.

“Making a costly sacrifice to right past wrongs is a profoundly Christian thing to do, and most worshipping Anglicans I have spoken to in the last weeks are prepared to do it gladly,” he said.

“I understand that the sale of churches and cemeteries causes pain and sadness for church members as well as the wider local community. However, our commit­ment to justice, recognition and support of survivors through providing redress underlies the need for this sacrifice.”

The bishop, who proposes using about a quarter of an estimated $20 million in property sales to help fund the $8.6m redress scheme, secured support from abuse survivors.

“I believe his motives are genuine,” said Beyond Abuse spokesman Steve Fisher, who worked on the redress scheme with Bishop Condie.

However, Mr Fisher called on everyone involved in the church sell-off debate to avoid using victims as a “political football”.

“I feel for parishioners who are going to lose their churches. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that they are paying for … what the pedophile priests did,” he said.

Ms Turvey said the Buckland community would seek to hold the bishop to a previous verbal commitment from the diocese that should St John’s be closed, they would first be offered a peppercorn purchase.

Ms Turvey and her sister Elizabeth were christened and confirmed in the church and had ancestors buried in the churchyard stretching back to convict times.

Many local families wanted to keep the Gothic sandstone church open for weddings, funerals and community events. “We all have our family windows in the church, we have all been married, christened and so on in the church. It has a strong community and emotional family connection,” she said.

Church sales have occurred in other dioceses partly to pay for redress schemes, with sources pointing to sell-offs in Bathurst and Newcastle in NSW.


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