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No 'quick fix' for Church after abuse crisis: new Chancellor

New diocesan Chancellor says establishment and operation of redress schemes will be a priority.

Professor the Honourable Clyde Croft AM SC, the new Chancellor of the Diocese of Melbourne

By Mark Brolly

June 1 2020The new Chancellor of the Diocese of Melbourne, Professor the Honourable Clyde Croft AM SC, says the establishment and operation of redress schemes will be a priority as well as continuing the work of his predecessor, Mr Michael Shand QC, in professional standards.

A Supreme Court judge for 10 years until 2019, Professor Croft – now a professor at Monash University's Law Faculty – warned that there was no "quick fix" for the Church to regain public trust and confidence after the revelations of child sexual abuse.

"The contribution and work of Michael Shand QC, as Chancellor, to the development of professional and episcopal standards legislation and protocols cannot be overestimated," he said. "The value of his work and the foundation laid is really inestimable and will provide a very firm foundation for the future in the Diocese. There will, nevertheless, be significant ongoing work in relation to professional standards, in terms of monitoring and reviewing existing legislation and protocols and responding to changing needs and expectations. I will certainly be seeking to continue Michael’s work in this respect and to facilitate the work of the Diocese in these matters. A presently pressing matter at the moment, and one which I give the highest priority, is the ongoing establishment and operation of redress schemes.

"So very many people have been hurt so terribly, and over their whole lifetimes, by child sexual abuse and are owed the deepest apology, love and nurturing in real and tangible ways. This is the priority, not motivated by concerns for the sake of the Church and its future but out of real unconditional Christian love regardless – at least trying as best we can to wrap them in the loving arms of God. As well, the Church needs to be true to its mission and to really practice inclusive love, integrity and trustworthiness. People have a very acute sense of hypocrisy and recent events and failures have certainly left many people deeply cynical in relation to the churches general. So there is no 'quick fix', just hard work along the road in the direction I have outlined.

"... There is the ongoing discussion in relation to worship style and the work of the Church in the community and for social justice. These ongoing issues are very important but integrity and trust building must underpin these matters. There are also some very significant ongoing issues with respect to the diocesan structure and organisation of the National Church and the financial viability of a number of dioceses. These issues, very difficult as they are, must be tackled as a matter of some urgency."

Professor Croft, who served as Mr Shand's deputy from 2007 until his appointment as Chancellor in April, was in legal practice as a commercial and property law, with a significant commercial arbitration practice, when appointed Deputy Chancellor. He had led the team of lawyers representing parties before the Church's highest court, the Appellate Tribunal, seeking to establish that there was no obstacle to women being consecrated bishops in Australia.

"We were successful and since the Appellate Tribunal published its decision and reasons in 2007 there are now a significant number of women Bishops, including Diocesan Bishops and, of course, Archbishop Kaye Goldsworthy, Archbishop of Perth," he said. "I think the very positive transformation of the Church that has flowed from and is flowing from this landmark decision very significant in so many dimensions. I count it a great privilege to have been involved in and assisted in triggering this process."

In 2011, he was appointed Chancellor of the Diocese of Wangaratta and three years later, a member of the Appellate Tribunal – roles he continues to occupy. He was the Primate’s Chancellor to Archbishop Philip Freier from 2014-19.

Professor Croft said the role of the Diocesan Chancellor was to provide advice and support to the Archbishop, to the Assistant Bishops, the Registrar and the Diocese more generally, as that advice and support was sought. He said he wanted to be "as accessible and even-handed in my work with all the strands on Anglicanism as practised in the Diocese".

He said his faith gave his life meaning, "particularly in this troubled world and exceptionally difficult present times".

"It also underpins my conviction that life is about service. It is not about money, status and all the other foibles of the material world. Our Lord’s life as the servant king really says it all for me.

"Anglicanism is a concept that is not too easy to pin down, as history and contemporary debates and discourse show. I cannot help thinking though, perhaps slightly irreverently, that it epitomises the English approach of 'muddling through' in all sorts of things, including the common law legal system. Tight, planned, organisational structures and rules are not part of this approach. Nevertheless this approach has great strengths and freedoms. In relation to Anglicanism it provides a very broad canvas for beliefs and practices within general bounds. Potentially, and hopefully more so in the future, this proves to be energising and refreshing. Hopefully this mix of ideas and practices continue to be respected and constructively drawn upon by all Anglicans in Australia and elsewhere."

As perhaps befits a former judge, Professor Croft has cut a somewhat inscrutable figure at Synod meetings, sitting on the President's table to the right of Dr Freier and Mr Shand. But there is much more to him – including a passion for railways and his four-wheel drive for ventures off the beaten track.

He and his wife Krystyna have a son and two daughters. Their son Robert, who is in his 30s, "is a fairly severely disabled Down syndrome, now adult, who is a successful artist and actor – and has made some films with assistance as well".

"We have both been involved closely in the disability sector for his three and a half plus decades and Krystyna has and is working closely with the NDIA in relation to his ongoing support.

"One of our daughters is a physiotherapist who is now working at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis at a major London Hhospital – in ICU and rehabilitation of victims of the disease. Our other daughter is working in sustainable fashion and doing her bit to try and move fashion away from all the unsustainable and inexcusable environmental waste and degradation and exploitation we see all the time.

"Apart from those things, I really enjoy Victoria – particularly the Mallee and its deserts but I am also coming to know and appreciate better the North East with my involvement in Wangaratta.

"I am also a member of RailFutures which is a rail industry think tank which provides research and advice to governments ... And I love my Jeep Wrangler!"