Goldsworthy: Church a place of 'grace and healing' despite abuse scandals

The Church must work at rebuilding trust lost in the wake of widespread sexual abuse revelations

By Emma Halgren

December 10 2017
This article was published in the December 2017 issue of The Melbourne Anglican

The church’s place in the community has changed and is continuing to change, and in the wake of sexual abuse scandals the church must work anew at building trust, says Bishop Kay Goldsworthy AO, who will be installed as Archbishop of Perth in February 2018.

Bishop Goldsworthy, who will finish her current role as Bishop of Gippsland on 16 December, said that the church was in a “season of repentance” for the abuses of trust it had been part of.

“For many people the church is a place in which there is light and life and grace and healing and fullness, and the love of Christ is very real, but we also know that there has been a lot that has not been okay in any way at all, that has not been good,” she said.

“And so, what shape we will be, I think none of us knows; what we are becoming, we don’t know; but it is going to be looking different and the world around us is, day by day, I think, announcing how very different we need to be and from what we’ve been, in some ways.”

As Archbishop of Perth she will succeed Roger Herft, who announced last December that he would retire early. Archbishop Herft had stood aside as Archbishop of Perth in October 2016 so that he could focus fully on the public hearing into the Diocese of Newcastle – where he had been bishop from 1993 to 2005 – by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Being elected Australia’s first female archbishop is the latest in a series of firsts for Bishop Goldsworthy. She was among the country’s first women priests, ordained in 1992, and in 2008 became Australia’s first female bishop, when she was consecrated as an assistant bishop of Perth.

But she said she had always felt strongly that she was in the “company of others” – men and women who were supportive of women’s ordination, and women who, like her, were taking up ordained ministry roles in the church.

“When it became clear to me that I thought that God was calling me to be a priest… I really felt that I was part of something that was quite challenging. There was a lot of heat around in the early 1980s over all of this [women’s ordination], a lot of concern, and a lot of determination that many, many people believed that this was where God was calling the church.

“As an individual and as somebody young and just starting out in formation and training and wondering, the church feels like a pretty big thing in the face of all of that. However, I’ve always felt that I’ve been in the company of others.”

Bishop Goldsworthy grew up in Melbourne, attending first Holy Trinity Kew and then, as a teenager, St Francis-in-the-Fields Mooroolbark, a parish she described as having been “very formative” in her life.

“At a particular age as a young teenager, my parish priest had a fantastic ministry for me and for other people of my age. It was a ministry which said, ‘you’re taken seriously, your questions are taken seriously, never think you have a question that’s too big to bring to God, to the Bible, to faith. It may take some time to work out how you answer that or find an answer, but there’s nothing that can’t be brought’. That was a very freeing thing for me.”

At home, her mother imparted a strong message about the power of prayer and of God’s love. Her father had a chronic illness and for Bishop Goldsworthy as a young person, prayer was a way of responding to his illness and her concern for him.

“I don’t really remember a time when the language of God and the language of Jesus wasn’t part of our household,” she said. “I grew up in a house where people spoke about God, where people talked about prayer. The overwhelming message in my household was that God loves you.”

Bishop Goldsworthy received her theological training at Melbourne’s Trinity College, where she was one of the last generation of residential theological students. “My experience as a member of a community of formation students, who were all in the midst of testing vocation and searching, was a very particular one because it meant praying with each other day by day and living in community in a very particular way, not a community set apart, but a community set in the midst of other students and the university. I studied at, as it was then, the United Faculty of Theology ecumenical community and that also has been part of the shaping and forming, having been taught by Anglicans and members of the Uniting Church and mostly Jesuits from the Catholic community. That was a stunning experience.”

Bishop Goldsworthy has indicated that one of her priorities when she becomes Archbishop of Perth will be to look at what the diocese is doing to care for and support victims of family violence. She said that the church had an important role to play in addressing violence in the home, and that it was “terrifying” that in some cases, interpretations of biblical texts had been used by perpetrators to justify their actions.

“If you tell people they have a particular place and you preach that from your pulpit, it can be taken on board in ways that people never intend, but that land really dangerously, really dangerously. And, of course, what that means is that women are hearing particular messages about how they should be in family and community.

“Now what I know is that the church that I’m part of, and have been part of for all of my life, is a place where many people who have experienced abuse and violence have found hope and they have found welcome and they have found a place of new understandings of how it can be that God sees them and sees their place, and they have been able to heal and be set free in all sorts of ways that have just been wonderful. That’s part of what I know about the church as well. It’s good news.”

Archbishop Goldsworthy was installed as Archbishop of Perth on Saturday 10 February 2018. Read our report of her installation here.