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Sexual Abuse: Statement By The Governor-General

The Governor-General, Dr. Peter Hollingworth, has released a statement on sexual abuse allegations in the archdiocese of Brisbane.

Text of statement by the Governor-General.

Sexual abuse of children is totally abhorrent to me, and always has been. I believe it to be one of the most repugnant and serious of crimes. It can never be condoned or excused.

The community generally and more particularly those in positions of authority have a clear obligation to protect children from this vile activity and abuse of power.

As Archbishop of Brisbane I was confronted with a number of cases in which I was required to exercise my judgment about how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse. In some of these cases, there were not only allegations but also admissions of child sexual abuse.

I exercised my judgment in each of those cases in good faith, to the best of my ability, and drawing upon both my religious beliefs and the best advice then available to me in the circumstances of the day.

I fully accept that those who have the authority to exercise these judgments must be accountable for their actions and that my decisions in these cases are now properly the subject of scrutiny.

This scrutiny should be properly informed by an understanding of the facts. Inaccurate or distorted reporting and analysis will simply inhibit the community and its organizations in their endeavours to better deal with these tragic events. It is achieving success in those endeavours that must be given the highest priority by all involved.

Accordingly, I welcome the announcement by Archbishop Aspinall that he will convene an inquiry into matters of sexual abuse involving the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane. I will cooperate with that inquiry fully and in any way that I can.

A deal of the media reporting, both print and television, that has occurred in the recent period has been neither properly informed nor conducive to safeguarding the interests of children and their freedom from risk of sexual abuse.

I have thus thought very long and hard about how to respond to the various assertions made about my handling of allegations of sexual abuse.

I have examined my actions, my records, my conscience, my memory and my responsibilities. I have also taken into account the difficult issues of confidentiality. On balance, I have decided that I must issue this detailed statement. While I understand and share the anguish of people involved directly or indirectly in child abuse situations, I feel obliged to set the record straight as there have been serious distortions in the way the issues have been projected in the media.

I do so knowing that this requires me to recall events and conversations some of which occurred many years ago. I make this statement to the best of my memory and notes. I stand ready to address any issues with the facts and the truth to the best of my ability.

Child sexual abuse cases are inherently difficult and complex. Each case is different. Sexual abuse raises a number of often competing issues and principles such as the rights of children, rights of parents, rights of the accused, confidentiality and availability of evidence.

Of these issues, the rights of the child must always be paramount. And, amongst those rights, the free ability to involve law enforcement agencies is fundamental. I have never actively discouraged any individual from taking a matter of sexual abuse to the police. Nor would I ever do so.

In reflecting on the Church’s approach to child sex abuse during my earlier years as Archbishop of Brisbane, I have come to the conclusion that we were operating within a system that should now be recognized as ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of the issues. I acknowledge that the Church had not kept pace with community expectations and demands for greater transparency and accountability in dealing with these problems. I acknowledge I was part of that system. I became conscious of these deficiencies and the Diocesan Council and I instigated a number of processes for reform. On refection we could have done more.

One of the fundamental problems is that the Christian notion of forgiveness has not been reconciled clearly enough with more robust and transparent community processes for remediation and the avoidance of future risk. This is a fundamental issue for all churches and public institutions. I hope that an outcome of the focus on my handling of these cases will be a quickening of the pace of reform in this area.

The structure of the Church and the governance procedures in place at the time meant there were no clear guidelines for when church leaders should become involved and how. This has led to a perception that complaints of sexual abuse were covered-up and that outcomes favoured priests over victims. While I do not believe the objective evidence justifies such conclusions, the fact that such perceptions arise is a reality to which I and the Church must respond.

I have never sought to cover-up or resile from dealing with an allegation of child sexual abuse, no matter how difficult. I have always attempted to exercise my judgment and authority in a way that balances all competing interests.

The exercise of judgment is the central element in the cases that I will address below. Choosing between black and white is easy and perhaps I should be envious of those who perceive the world in that way. I do not. The church exists for the salvation of broken people, people broken by what may have been done to them, people broken by the evil they do to others. The human and interpersonal issues faced by any church leader, to my mind, involve many shades of grey. Over the years I have made judgments drawing on my professional training and experience. I accept that others in the same circumstances might well make different judgments. In retrospect, if faced with the same circumstances today, some of my judgments may have been different. I do not pretend that all my judgments have been perfect. I regret those I may have got wrong.

Child abuse is one of the most difficult and serious of social problems confronting our community. There is a report of a child abuse every five minutes in Australia. It is an issue that I have tried to address to the best of my ability over 40 years in my various roles in the community. I refuse to turn away because it is too difficult. I vow to continue to help the community and to take a lead to deal with this most urgent problem.

In the passages that follow I set out my detailed response to various allegations repeatedly made in the print and television media in recent weeks to which I am presently able to respond. Should further media reports contain material that I consider warrant comment from me, I will respond appropriately at the time.

Toowoomba Prep School

I detailed the limited nature of my involvement in this matter in my earlier statement in December 2001. There are however three particular matters raised in the Sunday and 60 Minutes program to which I should provide an additional response.

Allegation: That for three years after the rape of Marj’s daughter, Guy would rape or sexually abuse up to 80 girls at this school.

  • There is no evidence to support this allegation.
  • Guy’s suicide note named 20 girls from Toowoomba Prep and another school interstate. The school and the Toowoomba Hospital Suspected Child Abuse Network (SCAN) team followed up with each of their families. I have recently been informed by a senior Toowoomba paediatrician, Dr Prebble, that no cases were reported to the SCAN team and that there was accordingly nothing for them to investigate.
  • The available evidence to date is that no more than 3 girls were sexually abused by Guy at Toowoomba Prep.
  • We previously knew of the two girls involved in the charges against Guy.
  • More recently we have become aware of another girl who has only recently informed her family that she was raped by Guy in 1988. This is the daughter of Marj who was interviewed on the Sunday and 60 Minutes programs.
  • Another couple interviewed by Sunday/60 Minutes (Sue and John Neale) clearly indicated that their daughter was not molested.
  • Abused children are in no way assisted by gross exaggeration of this kind made by the Sunday and 60 Minutes programs.

Allegation: “Only the parents of the 20 girls named in the suicide note were to be told the truth.”

  • The School Council decided that only the parents of the girls named in the suicide note should be specifically advised of Guy’s conduct. I was not party to that decision. The charges against Guy were, of course, a matter of public record and widely known within the community.
  • I was informed on returning from leave on or about 4 February 1991 that the School Council had met the Toowoomba Hospital’s SCAN team and had formulated an action plan. Under this plan the headmaster was to take certain action, including:
    • writing urgently to the parents of each of the children mentioned in Guy’s suicide note;
    • providing assistance to the SCAN unit and the Health Department;
    • speaking to all the children at the school at the earliest opportunity after the holidays;
    • informing the SCAN unit be of the school’s response to the parents of the girls mentioned in Guy’s note; and
    • advising the families of the two girls known to have been abused of the action to be taken by the School Council.
  • The School Council also immediately reviewed its boarding house administrative practices and agreed to consider paying counselling fees for the girls.

Allegation: That there was a cover-up of Guy’s abuse.

  • I have set out above the decisions which the School Council took, with advice from the Toowoomba Hospital, and the directions it gave to the headmaster, after it became aware of Guy’s abuse.
  • These decisions were not made or implemented immediately upon the revelation of Guy’s activities. This led to some concerns that there was a cover-up involved. However, the delay in acting was partly because of the summer vacation and the absence of school authorities and pupils, and partly due to the need to await the SCAN team’s advice. While action could have been taken more quickly, there was in fact no cover-up.

A Queensland Priest

Allegation: That I allowed a 62-year-old Queensland priest to continue his licence until retirement at 65 years, with knowledge that he had committed an act of sexual abuse prior to his becoming a priest.

  • The Sunday and 60 Minutes programs referred to a priest and events involving an unnamed boy that took place some 20 years ago. These events took place before the priest was ordained.
  • The family of the boy informally approached the diocese in late 1993 reporting that their two sons had been abused by the priest before he was ordained and expressing concern about the priest continuing in his office.
  • When I was informed of the sexual abuse, I immediately confronted the priest who readily admitted the incidents. I insisted that he give me a full account of his previous actions.
  • After making inquiries I could find no evidence of his having offended since becoming a priest.
  • I required the priest to seek assistance from a psychiatrist with whom I could liaise. The psychiatrist advised me verbally that paedophiles may re-offend. In light of this, I wrote to the priest alerting him to the psychiatrist’s advice about the dangers of re-offending and urging him to take the utmost care. He promised to do so, and agreed to report to me regularly.
  • In light of these matters, I formed the view that he could continue as a priest but only on a number of conditions designed to avoid the danger of any recurrence:
    • I required him to apologise to the victims and the family;
    • I directed that he was to have nothing to do with children or youth organizations;
    • I informed the regional bishop of the action that I had taken so that he could assist me in maintaining close surveillance to monitor the priest’s ongoing behaviour;
    • I informed the other bishops within the diocese of my action, in the interests of transparency and collegiality and to seek any suggestions for alternative courses which were not forthcoming at the time (although some unease was expressed at a later time when the priest held a Permission To Officiate which allowed him to conduct alternative services in his retirement);
    • I required him to disclose the matter to his wife and I personally spoke with the priest’s wife about the need for her to be alert to the priest’s ongoing behaviour; and
    • I maintained occasional contact with the victim and agreed to his request that the church provide him with counselling (which he did not eventually take up).
  • Upon his acceptance of these conditions, I concluded that the risk of any recurrence of what I then believed was isolated activity some 20 years ago was not such that the priest could not continue in office until retirement. Whether he would later receive permission to undertake occasional locums on his retirement in two years time was contingent on his conduct in the concluding years of his active ministry.
  • Some eight years later, a separate matter became the subject of a police investigation. The priest has now been charged and pleaded guilty on separate charges. These offences also occurred before he became a priest. It was because of these charges that his licence was recently revoked.
  • I completely support that decision.
  • I am deeply disturbed that, despite my specific questioning of him on this point, the priest did not inform me about these other abuses and that evidence of them was not otherwise available to me. Had this not been the case, my decision would most definitely have been different.

Allegation: I am supposed to have told the father that it was better to upset one family rather than an entire parish.

  • While I cannot recall the detail of our conversation, I cannot believe that I would have said this. A sentiment of this nature is inconsistent with my principles and beliefs.
  • I know that members of the family had difficulty accepting my decision not to revoke the priest’s licence. While I understand their feelings, I was required to form a judgment on all the material then available to me. I made a pastoral judgment in good faith based on my belief that the right protections were in place and that nobody would be at risk. I believed at the time that the priest had not transgressed since his ordination. This remains the case and there is no evidence that any child has suffered harm as a result of my decision.
  • I accept some will criticise the decision I made and, with the benefit of hindsight and especially with the facts that have now emerged, I recognise that it would have preferable if the priest’s licence had been revoked.


Allegation: On the Sunday/60 Minutes programs, a silhouetted figure called “David” claimed that I sought to dissuade him from taking allegations to the police.

  • When I saw the Sunday/60 Minutes programs I could neither recognise “David” nor recall meeting him. This was still the case when I commented on “David” during the “Australian Story” program on Monday night.
  • However, I now understand from checking my diary that “David” is a person with whom I met at the end of August 1993.
  • I have no clear recollection of the details of our conversation. In particular, I do not recall him raising the prospect of approaching the police. If he did so, however, I do not believe I would have urged him not to go to the police.
  • As a trained social worker and priest, I would never seek to dissuade an individual from going to the police or other authorities. In any such counselling, my practice was to ensure that individuals were aware of all the options for seeking redress in respect of their allegations of sexual abuse and of the potential ramifications of each for them and their families.
  • In following this course I have never sought to improperly or inappropriately discourage any victim from exercising their fundamental right to raise a matter of sexual abuse with the police.
  • Now that I have clearly identified “David”, I recall that, in 2001, “David” had telephone conversations with me in which he indicated a need for counselling. I offered to pay for this. I arranged for one of the church agencies to help him. As it transpired, I believe he did not take up this offer.
  • By way of clarification I mention that, during the “Australian Story” interview, I incorrectly assumed that the priest to whom “David “ referred may have been associated with the now closed St George’s Home in Rockhampton. This was because of “David’s” reference to the priest having ceased to be a priest in the last 12 months. I now understand this not to have been the case.

Mr Alec Spencer

Allegation: On the Sunday/60 Minutes programs, Mr Spencer said he attended a meeting at which he alleges that I said “…the people who make these allegations are often deviants and misfits and can’t be trusted.”

  • I do not believe that I would ever have made such a statement. I find the language attributed to me abhorrent and against all my professional training and beliefs.

Allegation: Mr Spencer also complains that I did not want to deal with him in relation to his claimed experiences at St George’s Home, Rockhampton, claiming that I was about to take long service leave.

  • My recollection is that Mr Spencer told me on two occasions that he wanted to discuss his experiences with me, and that in each case this occurred after the only meetings of Queensland heads of churches that he ever attended as a representative of the Assemblies of God.
  • After the first meeting, I indicated my readiness to meet him even though Rockhampton was in a different diocese. I asked my secretary to make an appointment for Mr Spencer to see me should he make contact. He did not do so.
  • On the second occasion, I again indicated my willingness to meet him, while mentioning that I was unable to do so in the immediate future as I was about to leave for the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops held in Canterbury (not long service leave as Mr Spencer claimed). Again he did not follow up and the next I heard of him were the allegations, attributed to him two years ago in The Courier Mail and similar to those he made on the Sunday/60 Minutes program.

Ross McAuley

Allegation: The Weekend Australian and the Sunday/60 Minutes programs are critical of the appointment of the Cathedral’s Precentor, Ross McAuley, to the diocesan sexual abuse committee when I knew an allegation of abuse had previously been made against him. I am also criticised for not informing the committee of this allegation when appointing him to it.

  • McAuley and I worked together for nine years at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne. Throughout that period I had no reason whatsoever to suspect any impropriety on his part and particularly in relation to sexual abuse of children. My assessment was that he performed his duties with the Brotherhood with distinction.
  • In 1995, McAuley was appointed by the Cathedral Chapter as Precentor in Brisbane, a job primarily concerned with the Cathedral’s liturgy and for which he was well qualified.
  • Not long after his appointment to Brisbane, I received a short letter from Mr Stephen Lacon making allegations about McAuley’s sexual behaviour many years previously in Mr Lacon’s presence.
  • I informed the bishops of the diocese of the allegation raised in the letter. I did this at our weekly meeting. We arranged for the complaint to be investigated by a small panel of experts. The panel met the complainant and a representative of a sexual abuse advocacy group.
  • A panel representative, independent of the diocese, investigated the matter as fully as he could. He reported to the panel that he could not verify Mr Lacon’s complaints. The investigator advised that none of his allegations could be verified, that no witnesses could be found and that Mr Lacon appeared confused as he was making contradictory statements.
  • It was noted at the meeting of bishops at which the matter was reported that Mr Lacon’s advocate did not press for further investigation.
  • I also had a long meeting with McAuley, putting the allegations to him along with the material provided by Mr Lacon. He strongly denied the allegations.
  • Some months later we were establishing a committee to deal with clergy sexual abuse. We needed a priest with social work training and the necessary perception and sensitivity to work with and provide balance on the committee. McAuley was recommended to me by the chair of the panel. I discussed both the recommendation and the prior allegation against McAuley with the bishops at our weekly meeting. After reviewing all the circumstances, we agreed that McAuley’s name should be given to the committee to fill the final vacancy.
  • Because the panel and independent investigator had failed to find any grounds to support Mr Lacon’s complaint, I did not consider it appropriate for me to divulge the fully investigated complaint to the committee.
  • Subsequently, a 24-year-old male member of the choir made a complaint about an inappropriate sexual advance to him, as an adult, by McAuley.
  • This matter was investigated by the clergy sexual abuse committee without him taking any part, other than his participation in formal mediation. The committee was unable to resolve all the issues before it and eventually referred the matter to me with a written recommendation that he be stood down as Precentor and accept counselling.
  • On investigation, and after interviewing both the complainant and McAuley in depth, I concluded that the allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour could not be corroborated and that the matter essentially arose from an irreconcilable breakdown between them in relation to a business venture being undertaken by them. Because of this I decided that there was insufficient grounds to remove him from the position of Precentor.
  • However, McAuley took extended sick leave and took up certain of the recommendations of the committee. Later it became clear that the Cathedral could not afford to keep the separate full-time Precentor position and soon after McAuley moved to Tasmania.

Allegation: In the Sunday/60 Minutes programs, a member of the sexual abuse committee, Mr David Axten, claimed that McAuley’s employment at the Cathedral could have posed an ongoing risk to the children of the choir.

  • I utterly reject that suggestion.
  • Given the unsubstantiated nature of Mr Lacon’s complaint and my conclusion that the subsequent complaint of a homosexual approach to an adult was simply a manifestation of an inter-personal dispute related to a business venture, I consider that there were no grounds to assume that there was a risk to children in the choir.
  • At this point I need to correct a detail I provided in the “Australian Story” interview on Monday night. I mistakenly said that Bishop Noble alone handled the Lacon complaint. This is not correct and I apologise to him.

Bishop Donald Shearman

Allegation: That I did not revoke Bishop Shearman’s right to officiate after I was informed of his abuse of a girl in the 1950s.

  • The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 16 February carried a front-page story with the banner headline “G-G spared sex abuse bishop”. Certain details were set out in a later article in The Courier Mail in which former Bishop Don Shearman identifies himself as the retired bishop in question. It is a very sad set of circumstances for all involved, spanning some 50 years.
  • The facts as I understand them to be are as follows:
    • Retired Bishop Shearman had sex with a girl of about 15 years of age when he was a young curate some 50 years ago. The girl was a resident in a church hostel he supervised. That act on his part cannot be condoned, and I have never condoned it regardless of whether or not the girl was a willing participant.
    • Shearman confessed his actions to his then Bishop and offered to resign, but this was not accepted.
    • In the 1970s a relationship commenced between Shearman and the then adult woman involved in the 1950’s incident and this lasted for a short period.
    • In the mid 1980s, after Bishop Shearman had resigned, the woman complained to my predecessor about Shearman’s conduct;
    • The then Archbishop then sought to achieve a resolution of the woman’s grievances, with some apparent success.
  • In the mid 1990s the woman approached me, raising the same grievances against Shearman. I referred the matter to the clergy sexual abuse committee which made a number of recommendations, including formal mediation. I was an observer at that formal mediation between her and Shearman and, at its conclusion, I believed that a resolution of the grievances had been achieved.
  • It was in all these circumstances that I formed the view that there was no need to revoke former Bishop Shearman’s Permission To Officiate (P.T.O.). A P.T.O. allows a retired priest to conduct occasional church services.
  • Subsequently it became apparent, early last year, that the resolution understood to have been achieved at mediation had broken down and the woman again raised her concerns in letters to other bishops. For this reason, Bishop Shearman and I agreed that he should discontinue any public ministry in his retirement.
  • Adverse inferences have been drawn from the fact of Bishop Appleby’s revocation of retired Bishop Shearman’s P.T.O. shortly after my departure from the diocese. The fact is that the formal withdrawal of the P.T.O. by the Bishop Administrator followed the agreement I made with former Bishop Shearman not to exercise ministry publicly.

Provision of Counselling

Allegation: The Sunday/60 Minutes program reporter’s claim that $35m has been spent on refurbishing the Cathedral while only $500 had been spent on counselling for victims of sexual abuse.

  • I reject this allegation. While there is an appeal for $25m for the completion of the Cathedral (of which about half has been raised), the fact is that significant amounts have been allocated to support counselling.

St Paul’s School

Allegation: The Daily Telegraph of today alleges that I “endorsed a secret cash settlement which hushed up direct evidence of sexual abuse perpetrated against boys at a Anglican Church School in Brisbane”.

  • Legal proceedings were instituted against St Paul’s School arising out of alleged sexual abuse by Kevin John Lynch, the Counsellor of that school.
  • Those proceedings were settled on terms mutually agreeable not only to the Church but to the plaintiff and his family. In the usual way, the settlement included a confidentiality clause. I understand that the fundamental purpose of this clause would have been to protect the privacy of the boys involved. It is certainly the case that I never insisted that such a clause be inserted.
  • While I was informed of the settlement, I was not asked to approve of it. The decision in this regard was taken by the Church’s insurers in consultation with the diocesan General Manager, who in turn was advised by the diocese’s independent solicitors.
  • It would have been totally inappropriate and unacceptable to have forced the plaintiff to suffer the further anguish of litigation simply to avoid the baseless allegation now made that “hush money” was paid.
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Malcolm Farnsworth
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