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Archbishop Freier defends Melbourne diocesan response to complaints about Dr Hollingworth

Role is to respect the independent process for complaints and not to interfere.

Dr Peter Hollingworth: abuse survivors have called into question his title as a bishop and entitlements as a former Governor-General.

By Mark Brolly

August 17 2018 

Archbishop Philip Freier has rejected claims that the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne had ignored complaints about former Governor-General Dr Peter Hollingworth, a former Archbishop of Brisbane.

A statement from the diocese on 8 August quoted Dr Freier as saying that all complaints against clergy were taken very seriously.

The statement was issued after the ABC reported that day that Dr Hollingworth had been named in several complaints to the Melbourne diocese by survivors of abuse at the hands of Anglican clergy and teaching staff in Brisbane over his continuing status as a bishop.

Dr Hollingworth, 83, was sworn in as Australia's 23rd Governor-General on 29 June 2001 but resigned less than two years later, on 29 May 2003, amid a storm of criticism about his response to child sexual abuse complaints while Archbishop of Brisbane from 1990-2001. He returned to live in Melbourne, where he had spent most of his ministry since his ordination in the early 1960s – notably with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, including 10 years as its Executive Director from 1980. He was consecrated an Assistant Bishop of Melbourne in 1985.

The Melbourne diocesan statement said complaints were notified to the Commission for Children and Young People where required and handled by the independent complaints body, Kooyoora Ltd, under a process that held people accountable for their conduct and made determinations as to their fitness for office.

“My role is to respect that independent process and allow it to do its work, free of interference or public commentary from the Church,” Archbishop Freier said.

The diocesan statement said: “Under the process, Archbishop Freier is bound to follow any substantive recommendation of Kooyoora’s independent Professional Standards Board or Review Board, and must make public the action he takes.”

On 10 August, Kooyoora issued a statement denying an inference in an ABC report that day that Mr Vincent Lucas, Kooyoora’s former Director of Professional Standards, had had his employment terminated due to his investigation of a matter involving Dr Hollingworth.

“The ABC has now retracted this inference,” the statement said. “The suggestion was and remains false, and without foundation.”

The 8 August Melbourne diocesan statement also criticised Victorian MP Fiona Patten, the leader of the Reason Party, over her remarks that the Anglican Church had learnt nothing from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which completed almost five years of public hearings and private sessions with abuse survivors when it delivered its final report last December.

“In fact the processes being employed anticipated the final recommendations of the Royal Commission and were enacted in October 2016,” the statement said. “Kooyoora began its operations in July 2017. The detail of the processes was put before the Royal Commission at hearings in March 2017.

“The Royal Commission in its final report spoke favourably of these initiatives, and said that the independent corporate entity could in fact operate nationally and have within its remit the implementation of consistent child safe standards across all Anglican Church dioceses.”

Archbishop Freier said: “A significant learning from the Royal Commission is that robust and independent processes provide the best protection.”

The diocesan statement expressed disappointment that Ms Patten had repeated to the ABC her claim that the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne did not support compulsory reporting of child sex-abuse allegations to police.  

“Her claim is wrong,” the statement said. “After she said this in Parliament in June, the diocese gave her written evidence that the diocese had circulated to all parishes a code of conduct for child safety that drew people’s attention to the need to notify police if they have information on child sexual abuse. She has chosen to ignore that fact and make unsubstantiated allegations.

“She also claimed that the diocese had not replied to a series of letters from survivors. That is false.”

Last year, Dr Hollingworth was criticised by the Royal Commission in two reports over his handling of abuse in the Brisbane diocese – in January, over his response to allegations at St Paul’s School in Brisbane, and in May, over his response and that of the Brisbane diocese to allegations involving the Church of England Boys’ Society in four dioceses.

Dr Hollingworth has made a number of apologies, including in his address to the nation on the eve of his departure from Yarralumla 15 years ago and in appearances before the Royal Commission, as well as acknowledging his own failures. In November 2015, for instance, Dr Hollingworth told the Royal Commission hearing into abuse claims at St Paul’s School that it was clear he did not do enough to address the claims.

“I am saddened about the way these matters were dealt with during my time as Archbishop,” he told the hearing. “I deeply regret that I did not press harder to have your complaints investigated more rigorously.

“I am extremely sorry that the church and I failed to protect you.” 

In its report on 8 August, the ABC quoted a spokesman for Dr Hollingworth as saying that the former archbishop had “never committed any offences and tried his best to resolve complaints”. “Where he came up short he apologised publicly on a number of occasions.”

It also reported that Dr Hollingworth was not officially employed by the diocese and had no power to make decisions in the church. His spokesman confirmed that Dr Hollingworth did officiate as a bishop, but said his officiating was limited to ceremonies for old friends and occasional sermons in the cathedral.

But the ABC said abuse survivors were outraged that Dr Hollingworth still held the status, and authority, of a bishop in the Anglican Church: “It's a slap in the face to all the victims,” said 'Lyndal', who won a landmark judgement against the Brisbane diocese for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a teacher at the Toowoomba Preparatory School in the 1980s.

“The Anglican Church should be taking a stance to say, 'No, we need to make an example, to show across the world that we are serious about this'. Clearly, they're not.” 

The ABC reported that one survivor recently wrote to both Victoria's Working With Children Check unit and the State's Commission for Children and Young People, requesting an investigation into how Dr Hollingworth was approved for a Working With Children Card — a prerequisite for all Anglican clergy. The ABC had confirmed that the Commission referred the matter to Victoria Police in June. Victoria Police told the ABC that no offences in Victoria had been disclosed.

On 7 August, Ms Patten said religious institutions should set new standards in the way they addressed institutional child abuse.

“The maxim ‘Justice not only needs to be done, but must be seen to be done’ should be the standard that the church adopts,” she said.

“The church needs to stop mounting defences and put victim’s needs ahead of its desire to defend its reputation.”

She also queried how the Victorian Government had granted Dr Hollingworth a working with children certificate, given evidence to the Royal Commission. “This is creating further pain to victims who are already suffering.”

Kooyoora’s statement on 10 August said that it operated under an independent board and was required to follow the procedure set out in the Professional Standards Act, diocesan legislation subscribed to by the dioceses of Melbourne and Bendigo.

“In accordance with this procedure, complaints are investigated by Kooyoora, allowing all those who have chosen to be part of the process, to provide information and responses,” the statement said. “A process of natural justice is adhered to.

“The Professional Standards Committee assesses this material and in appropriate cases will present this information to the independent Professional Standards Board, which then makes its own determination. Pre-judgment of a matter by Kooyoora or its staff is not part of the process and would be unfair to participants and contrary to principles of natural justice.”

On Mr Lucas’ departure from Kooyoora, it said that he had served as Director of Professional Standards “with distinction for 12 months, and was highly regarded by his colleagues and the board” (Kooyoora’s emphasis).

“His contract of service was for a fixed term, which ended on 30 June 2018. Mr Lucas chose for his own reasons not to seek a renewal of his employment. 

“It is not proper for Kooyoora as an employer to speculate on the reasons why its staff choose to end their employment. However, the suggestion that Mr Lucas’s employment was ended by Kooyoora, or through undue influence by person or persons unknown, due to the work he was doing, is completely false.

“Kooyoora Ltd is properly constrained from commenting publicly on complaints received, whether an investigation is in process or what stage any investigation might have reached. These constraints exist so as to ensure a fair process occurs, and to protect both survivor/complainants and respondents. Provisions exist requiring determinations at the end of the process to be made public.”

The ABC report on 10 August said Mr Lucas had told a survivor of sexual abuse last year that he believed there was enough publicly available evidence to revoke Dr Hollingworth's Holy Orders and that he could not understand why Archbishop Freier had not taken action to do so.

“I don't have to prove anything,” the ABC quoted Mr Lucas as saying. “The evidence has already been examined, understood, and found over a number of years.

“I'll present a complaint to the professional standards committee. There's more than enough justification to prove [Dr Hollingworth's] unfitness to hold Holy Orders.” 

On 9 August, the ABC reported that Senator Derryn Hinch and Queensland abuse survivor Mr Kelvin Johnston had urged Dr Hollingworth to forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars from his taxpayer-funded pension and entitlements, including an office and staff in Collins Street that he received as a former Governor-General.

  • Media reports on 15 August said Queensland Police were reviewing allegations against Dr Hollingworth over his handling of sexual abuse claims while he was Archbishop of Brisbane. Dr Hollingworth issued a statement through his lawyer Bill Doogue, saying the reports were surprising, given the allegations “had been the subject of four inquiries in the past 15 years”. “None of those inquiries suggested he had committed any offence,” the statement said.