THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNOR-GENERAL AND THE ISSUE OF SEXUAL ABUSE
PART 1 - THE HOLLINGWORTH EVENTS
The Hollingworth saga, as it is becoming known, began 12 years
ago, when Dr Peter Hollingworth, with a Diploma of Social
Studies and twenty-five years experience in the welfare
organisation The Brotherhood of St Laurence, was appointed
archbishop of Brisbane.
One could be pardoned for thinking that the appointment of a
social worker, combined with his assumed godliness, would
be a beneficial combination. And so it appeared. Hollingworth
made a name for himself as a champion of welfare issues, and
a spokesperson on rights abuses. But the litany of abuse
cover-ups that is emerging shows another side to those
There is the 1990 case of the abuses by Kevin Guy, at Toowoomba Prep
School, in which Hollingworth admits to doing less than he should have.
There is the case of a victim who complained to Hollingworth in 1993 and
was told "these things are best handled internally. There's no need to
involve [the police]".
There is the case of the 15 year old girl abused by her local priest, who by
the time of the complaint in 1995 was a retired bishop active in Hollingworth's
diocese, and from whom he refused to do more than accept an apology.
There is the case of Ross McAuley, appointed by Hollingworth to the Synod
Sexual Misconduct Complaints Committee in 1996 only six months after
being the subject of a complaint.
There is the case of a victim and his father, silenced for years under a 1997
confidentiality clause after a complaint to Hollingworth.
There is another father, who was told by Hollingworth that his son's
perpetrator "was 62 and unlikely to get another job if sacked",
presumably as justification for retaining him.
There is the case of the young businessman who sought to tell Hollingworth
his story in 2000 after being indirectly (and unintentionally, let it be added)
referred to as "deviant and misfit and can't be trusted".
And there is the fact that the current archbishop of Brisbane, Philip Aspinall,
has said that the "independent inquiry" he is seeking to establish will be
examining some 40 to 50 sex abuse cases from the last decade.
How many cases did Hollingworth fail to act on, cover up, and push under the
carpet? No-one knows.
The fact that these issues are only now being spoken about has led some to
argue that Hollingworth is being targeted as a result of his move from the
archbishopric to the governor-generalship. And to some extent, this may be
true. As governor-general, Hollingworth is accountable to many more people,
and in fact many more people who aren't afraid to call him to account, than he
was as archbishop. Yet to see it as only that is simplistic.
The court case that resulted in a damages award last December was against
the diocese, not against Hollingworth. The victim did not seek to target
Hollingworth; but her evidence, and other evidence presented as part of the
case, showed clearly that Hollingworth had been at best inactive, at worst
It is the similar stories that have been brought to light since then that have
alerted us to the magnitude of the issue.
Hollingworth's claim, in a letter to a complainant early last year, that he
was "monitoring the situation closely" stands in stark contrast to his argument
that he was too busy, and too far removed, to have personal responsibility for
such issues. His defence for his inaction over the Toowoomba Prep incident has
been that he was under stress, not up to it, or other similar comments. We are
presumably supposed to believe that a priest comes under such stress upon
becoming an archbishop that he can't even display compassion and make sure
compassionate action is taken.
His actions, and even his comments on Australian Story, tell a sorry tale. He
argues that he "confronted [McAuley], who assured Hollingworth it wasn't
him" and Hollingworth believed him. If that constitutes a church investigation
into an allegation of abuse, it is shameful.
He argues that it would have breached confidentiality to pass on the information
of that complaint to the committee McAuley was serving on. A breach of
confidentiality to tell the Synod Sexual Misconduct Complaints Committee
about a complaint? Hardly!!
Hollingworth argues that the woman, abused at 15 years old by a priest in his
30s, had initiated the relationship and "in my view this was not sex abuse".
For a trained social worker, with further ministerial training in the ethics of a
pastoral relationship, such a statement shows appalling ignorance. And in
fact, whether he thought it was abuse or not, he should have known it was
against the law.
He should have known all this, not only because he was in charge of priests
who were supposed to abide by it, but because he himself is a priest
supposed to abide by these principles. In fact, his implication that the 15
year old girl was the sexual predator - against a man more than twice her
age -- is so contradictory to social work practices, official church policy, and
the law, that we could be pardoned for seeing him as stupid. But someone
politically astute enough to climb to the top in a large corporation can't be
stupid. We are left with the option of deliberate intent and lack of
He said on Australian Story, about the scandal that has arisen: "the psalms
cries out about, "Why am I being punished? Why have people turned into my
enemies? What have I done to deserve this?" The cry on the cross - "My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me?"... I've got some new spiritual insights
into all that now for which I'm very thankful." I can't help feeling glad that
he's beginning to discover some of the pain that clergy abuse victims
experience for the rest of their lives.
PART 2 - CHURCH AND PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY
The Hollingworth saga raises some important questions of faith and of
procedure. Church officials point to recently established protocols as
evidence that while the church may have ignored or covered up abuse in the
past, they no longer do so. Yet the experience of victims who approach the
church now does not bear out the official story. Too many still tell of delays,
obstructionism, reactions at best unsympathetic, at worst deliberately
condemnatory. So what is the church doing, or what should it be doing, to
more adequately deal with complaints and prevent future abuses?
Before looking at what it should be doing, it is appropriate to look at why
the church has failed. The thing that many people don't realise, and indeed
are horrified to discover, is that the church is not primarily a moral
organisation. It is big business.
The Sydney Anglican Diocese, for instance, could continue to operate
indefinitely, funded by its investments, even were all weekly offerings to
cease tomorrow. Moreover, it is big business that operates in a culture
of secrecy, political manipulation and "old boys" networks. In such a culture,
sexual abuse becomes something that needs to be kept quiet for the
sake of the organisation, and the victim is seen primarily as a troublemaker.
It is this attitude that governs the way victims are treated. A common
pattern is as follows:
1. The victim approaches a church official, seeking an acknowledgement of
what happened, an apology, and perhaps some money for counselling.
2. The initial church response appears to be sympathetic, but ensuing action
is either non-existent or extremely dilatory. It is not unusual for correspondence
between victim and church to last for a year or more, even where all that is
asked for is a basic acknowledgement.
3. The church writes to the victim saying they have "investigated" and the
case can't be substantiated. Or that the perpetrator is dead (if he is) and no
action can be taken.
4. The victim, in desperation, initiates civil action in an attempt to hold
the church to the moral standards they believed it claimed.
5. Cases are often settled out of court, and where a monetary payment takes
place, it is usually accompanied by a confidentiality clause forbidding the
victim to speak of the circumstances of their abuse or the details of the
Hollingworth argued that apologies would be injudicious because of the
potential legal implications. As he said: " if you've got three or four court
cases that went against you, it'll close the school." Or eventually the
diocese, of course. But the reality is, if this were a rare occurrence, an
apology (with the resultant legal implications) would be easy. The reason
accepting liability by apologising is so frightening for the church is that
they know just how widespread the problem is and how financially
devastating that would be!
And after all, is it so hard for the church to admit they're wrong? Isn't
admission of guilt one of the basic tenets they're supposed to be living by?
But they don't. They don't live by biblical principles, they live by business
principles. Yet because they are "the church" they are exempt from the same
extent of accountability that big business has to face, and their flock hold
their superiors in the church in too much awe to see them as needing to be
held to account. Yet if even God could look at the world and decide the entire
population was irredeemable, why shouldn't we do the same with the church?
Indeed there are many dioceses around the world facing bankruptcy because
clergy sexual abuse was ignored by church officials for too long, and the
number of victims grew to mammoth proportions. So where to from here?
Given the culture of secrecy in the church, and the apparent ignorance on the
whole issue, even among supposedly aware members such as Hollingworth,
how do we demand accountability of them?
The shameful reality is that the only two things that will force the church
to change are legislation and litigation. Litigation because it hits them,
as a business, where it hurts -- their hip pocket. And legislation because
in spite of the exemptions from which they benefit, they are still bound to
bring their practices into line with the law. Legislation should include
a) proactively eliminate abusers from both clergy and lay worker ranks
(such as the NSW Working with Children legislation),
b) hand over to civil authorities all records churches hold of past
complaints as well as current ones,
c) remove clergy from the list of professions that are exempt from
mandatoryreporting of suspected abuse, and
d) acknowledge the significance of the power imbalance between clergy
and parishioners and put those relationships on the same footing as
those between professionals and clients in other professions.
And if we are demanding, or indeed insisting on, accountability, how
personally accountable is or should Hollingworth be, as archbishop of the
diocese against whom a massive damages amount was awarded in
December last year? Does his stance reflect what we expect of an archbishop?
Is he unusual in his stance, or is such an attitude endemic in higher church
circles? And should past failure affect his right to hold his current position?
Hollingworth behaved unethically, but no more than most (if not all) church
leaders do and have -- if it were an issue of morality, anyone calling for
his resignation should also be calling for the resignation of all other
church leaders who have done similar things, which to be totally frank,
wouldn't leave very many church leaders.
Should Hollingworth resign? It's important to bear in mind that he would be
resigning from the governor-generalship, not the archbishopric. The
justification for Hollingworth resigning, therefore, has to take into account the
difference between the position he's in now, and the position he was in when
the events occurred. It would have to be that these events had caused the
people to lose faith in his integrity.
For that reason, whether he should resign becomes a issue of public opinion
rather than an issue of morality. Given his failure to abide by the standards
of his own profession, there is certainly an argument for saying that he is
unable to demonstrate the wide grasp of professional and business
standards that it is necessary for the governor-general to have.
The alternative would be for him to stay in the job, but to act in such a
way as to restore the nation's faith in him. Are we going to demand
accountability of the governor-general, and if so, how?
 Rev. Dr Michael Horsburgh, in The Bulletin, 29th May 2001 and reprinted in
By Clare Pascoe Henderson firstname.lastname@example.org
Clergy Sexual Abuse in Australia
February 21, 2002