Former Archbishop of Adelaide Dr Ian George dies

Told Royal Commission of 'profound sadness' over his failure of leadership in responding to child sexual abuse

PHOTO: Supplied, Anglican Diocese of Adelaide

By Mark Brolly

January 30 2019 

Former Archbishop of Adelaide Dr Ian George has died in Melbourne after what is believed to be a series of strokes in recent weeks. He was 84.

Bishop George led Adelaide’s Anglicans from 1991-2004, but he resigned only two months before his scheduled retirement over his handling of child sexual abuse. He then moved to Melbourne, where he spent the rest of his life.

The Administrator of the Adelaide diocese, Bishop Tim Harris, announced Bishop George’s death on 29 January: “We receive the news with sadness that Bishop Ian George AO, Archbishop of Adelaide and Metropolitan of South Australia 1991-2004, died last night (Jan. 28) in Melbourne. He was in the company of his family and Bishop Phillip Huggins.

“We extend our condolences to his wife Barbara and family. Bishop George frequently reflected on themes of life, death and resurrection hope through his rich appreciation of art with religious contemplations. Such gospel truths shaped his faith and commitment.”

No funeral details have been announced.

Bishop Harris told the ABC that Bishop George had learnt a lot through his time as archbishop and recognised his failures during that time.

“He also recognised he failed to take the advice of those around him at that time … his failure to take that advice, he [recognised], was a serious mistake.”

In 2016, Bishop George made a submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, admitting that he should have done more to help victims during his time in charge.

He told a Commission hearing in Hobart into the Church of England Boys’ Society that he felt “a deep sense of remorse” that the Church did not protect children from CEBS leader Robert Brandenburg.

Brandenburg took his own life in 1999, days before facing court on 365 charges of child abuse.

Dr George’s position as Archbishop became untenable after a Board of Inquiry report was tabled in the South Australian Parliament on 31 May 2004.

His own diocesan council demanded his resignation by 2pm on 11 June 2004 after calls for him to resign were made by the SA Government and Melbourne barrister and General Synod member Stephen Howells. The Church's Professional Standards Committee urged him to stand aside while it investigated his role, and then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, part of a SA political dynasty, suggested he “reflect on his position”.

“The Diocesan Council recommended that I resign. In all the circumstances I chose to accept that recommendation …” Dr George said in his 2016 submission to the Royal Commission.

“I will always feel a profound sadness that under my leadership the Diocese did not take action more quickly to develop procedures which would assist the survivors of Brandenburg's abuse.

“I accept that my failure to act in a way which placed the welfare of survivors of abuse and their families at the centre of the Diocesan response resulted in further hurt to those survivors and their families. I am truly sorry that my leadership failed them.”

In 2017, SA Police announced an investigation into the decision by former St Peter's College priest John Mountford to flee Australia for Bali after allegations of sexual abuse against him emerged in 1992.

Mr Mountford was extradited to face trial from Thailand but the charges were withdrawn. He was murdered in Libya in 2009.

The Adelaide diocese issued a statement saying it was aware of reports about a police investigation “concerning former archbishop Ian George, related to school chaplain, John Mountford” was underway.

SA Police never confirmed whether Bishop George was being investigated. Bishop George repeatedly denied allegations that he had encouraged Mountford to flee Australia.

Bishop George had been a Barrister and Solicitor in SA from 1957-61, when he began theological studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York, where he was ordained. In 1964-65, he was Assistant Curate at St Thomas' Church, Mamaroneck, in the New York diocese before returning to Adelaide, where he was Assistant Curate at St David's Church, Burnside, from 1966-67.

He then became Priest-in-Charge and army chaplain at the Woomera rocket testing range in remote SA, before moving to Perth as Sub-Warden and Chaplain of St George's College at the University of Western Australia.

In 1973, he was appointed Dean of Brisbane, where he remained until 1981, moving to Canberra to become Rector of St John’s and later an archdeacon. From 1989-91, he was Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn before his election as Archbishop of Adelaide, succeeding Dr Keith Rayner, who had become Archbishop of Melbourne after the death of Dr David Penman.