Toowoomba Preparatory School: Statement by Governor-General Peter Hollingworth

The Governor-General, Dr. Peter Hollingworth, has denied being involved in a cover-up of allegations of sexual abuse at the Toowoomba Preparatory School in 1990, when he was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane.

In a statement released today, Dr. Hollingworth says he had only an ex-officio role on the school council: “Naturally then, I had no involvement whatsoever in the normal conduct of the affairs of the School.”

This is Hollingworth’s letter of February 25, 1991 regarding Toowoomba Preparatory School:

Hollingworth

Full text of Governor-General Peter Hollingworth’s statement:

HollingworthFollowing civil action against the Diocese of Brisbane by a victim of sexual abuse at Toowoomba Preparatory School in 1990, questions have been raised relating to my responsibilities as the Archbishop of Brisbane.

In the days following the decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland, handed down 12 days ago, I felt that it was inappropriate to comment because of my position as Governor-General, especially where the decision may be subject to appeal.

However, as it has become clear that some people would use my silence not only to draw into controversy the standing of the office of Governor-General, but also to make completely unfounded allegations against me personally, I cannot stand by and allow this to continue.

Expressed in different forms, the essential criticisms are that:

  • I was involved in a cover-up of serious sexual abuse;
  • I lacked the compassion expected of an Archbishop in my relations with the students and parents affected; and
  • I should have accepted the resignation of the School’s Headmaster.

Before addressing these points, I want to express my continuing and absolute abhorrence of all forms of child abuse, most especially by those occupying positions of trust in what should be secure and nurturing environments, as my record over 41 years of community leadership and ministry would surely demonstrate.

I also want to express my profound sympathy to victims of child sexual abuse across Australian society, including those who suffered from the deeply offensive conduct of the Toowoomba Preparatory School housemaster, Mr Guy.

Within the organisational structure of the Diocese at the time, primary responsibility for the School rested with the Headmaster, staff and Council of the School, all of whom had had an excellent reputation for running a fine School.

As Archbishop, I had no more than an ex officio role on the School Council, without a vote. I did not attend meetings of the School Council nor was I given any cause to do so. Naturally then, I had no involvement whatsoever in the normal conduct of the affairs of the School.

Following my appointment to the Diocese in March 1990, I first visited Toowoomba Preparatory School for the end of year Speech Day in the last week of November. I had no knowledge whatever, either before or on that day, of anything untoward at the School. I only became aware of Mr Guy’s activities some days later on 30 November, when he was charged by police. The clear priority then was to attend to the welfare of the children affected and the school community.

The circumstances of Mr Guy’s suicide on 18 December only served to reinforce the importance of this approach. This was made more difficult as the school year had ended, and the boarding students had dispersed and returned to their homes across Queensland and New South Wales.

Allegations of a cover-up are totally unfounded.

From the outset, I received advice from Diocesan officials that steps had been taken to address the welfare of the affected children and their families. I was told that the Council was being guided in its actions by legal advice, particularly to ensure that the position of the Diocese under its insurance policy was not prejudiced. A principal purpose of that policy was to meet any liability to those to whom the Diocese owed a duty of care.

I accepted it was imperative that insurance coverage not be jeopardised.

I proposed at an early stage that the Council should organise and pay for counselling and was told by the Schools Officer that the families directly affected were already independently receiving counselling.

Much publicity has been given to remarks I allegedly made during a telephone conversation with Mrs Joy Conolly while on leave in Victoria. I had not previously met Mrs Conolly. I reject any suggestion that I voiced a lack of concern or a disinterest in the welfare of the families. However, I was aware of the legal constraints and the understandable anger and pain of those affected, and I considered it more prudent to deal with the issues first-hand on my return from Victoria. I did indicate this to Mrs Conolly.

My recollection of those events of 11 years ago is that while I was still in Victoria, urged by Mrs Conolly, I made several unsuccessful attempts to contact one of the parents by telephone.

Back in Brisbane, I received a briefing from the Diocesan Schools Officer based on the minutes of a special meeting of the School Council which had taken place on 25 January. The meeting had discussed a detailed action plan developed for the care of the girls and their families. In the light of this plan and the legal constraints, I accepted the legal and Diocesan advice that it would not be in the interests of all concerned for me to intervene further in a personal way.

I did respond to those who wrote to me expressing their concern. I conveyed to them that we were committed to providing security and support for all the students, that I believed appropriate action was being taken and that I was monitoring matters to ensure this remained the case. For information, I attach a copy of one such letter. (In the interests of confidentiality I have deleted reference to names and address.)

I believe Mrs Conolly again urged me to speak to another parent in response to the letter. As I recall, I did so but the parent was understandably angry and upset and I was unable to fulfil her expectations of me.

In February 1991, the Headmaster and I had a three hour meeting to discuss the whole issue. At the end of the meeting he asked me whether I thought he should resign. I was satisfied after what he had told me that there was no reason to do so. I had no reason to believe the Headmaster had prior knowledge of Mr Guy’s activities and thus considered he could not reasonably have been expected to prevent the abuse. I understood him to be responding appropriately to the situation and considered it was in the best interests of all concerned that he provide leadership to the School at this time.

Through the newly constituted Anglican Schools Commission, with me as its Chairman, the Diocese proceeded to strengthen the role of its Schools Office. This secured a more professional approach to school matters and closer working relationships with the schools, and also paved the way for the establishment of school protocols to ensure more appropriate handling of cases of abuse.

I fully agree with the statement released last week by the Brisbane Diocese in saying that the community and its caring organisations have learnt a great deal since 1990 about the needs of victims of sexual abuse and their families. Our responses today would be different and better.

I am sorry that legal and insurance considerations to some extent inhibited our taking a more active role and more overtly expressing the Church’s concern for the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of those affected by the actions of Mr Guy.

Resolving the serious dilemma facing all religious, charitable or benevolent organisations in balancing their desire to show compassion with their legal obligations and risks is a matter to which the community and its caring organisations needs to give detailed thought.

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