Abuse claims against Anglicans exceed 1100 since 1980, Royal Commission told

The hearing was told 569 alleged perpetrators were identified between 1980 and 2015 - half of whom, 285, were lay people.

The Chair of the Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, has made 84 referrals to police in all states and the ACT relating to allegations of child sexual abuse involving Anglican institutions.

By Mark Brolly

March 17 2017 

More than 1100 allegations of child sexual abuse were made to all but one of Australia’s 23 Anglican dioceses in the almost 36 years to December 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was told on the first day of its final public hearing into the Anglican Church.

Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Ms Gail Furness SC and Ms Naomi Sharp, said 1082 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 1115 reported complaints between January 1980 and December 2015.

Ms Furness said 569 alleged perpetrators were identified in the complaints received – half of whom, 285, were lay people. Clergy accounted for 247 of those identified and the religious status of 37 perpetrators was unknown.

“Additionally, 133 unknown people were identified as alleged perpetrators,” she told the hearing in Sydney on 17 March. “It cannot be determined whether any of those people whose identities are unknown were identified by another complainant in a separate complaint.”

Brisbane and Adelaide dioceses received the highest number of complaints, 371 (33% of all complaints) and 155 (14%) respectively. Counsel noted that Brisbane required all Anglican schools in the diocese to report complaints of child sexual abuse to the diocese: “Consequently, the number of complaints reported by this diocese is higher than those dioceses that do not require any Anglican schools to report complaints of child sexual abuse to the diocese.”

Adelaide had reported a significant number of complaints that related to the Church of England Boys’ Society (CEBS).

The Melbourne diocese received 96 complaints, Sydney 89, Newcastle 63 and Tasmania 56. The other dioceses received between two and 46 complaints. The data did not disclose whether these dioceses required any schools within the diocese to report complaints of child sexual abuse to the diocese.

The Chair of the Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, has made 84 referrals to police in all states and the ACT relating to allegations of child sexual abuse involving Anglican institutions.

“As a result of those referrals there have been four prosecutions,” Ms Furness said. “Twenty-three matters are currently being investigated. The victim or the accused has died in seven cases and eight matters are pending. ‘Pending’ means that a referral has been made, and the Royal Commission is waiting for information about allocation of the matter within the receiving agency. In relation to the other referrals, some have been used for intelligence purposes or there has been insufficient evidence or the complaint has been withdrawn.”

In a statement issued on the opening morning of the hearing, Melbourne’s Archbishop Philip Freier, the Anglican Primate of Australia, said Anglicans had been truly shocked and dismayed at the unfolding in the Royal Commission of the scope of our failure to tackle child sexual abuse within the Church and the depth of survivors’ pain and suffering.

“We are deeply ashamed of the many ways in which we have let down survivors, both in the way we have acted and the way we have failed to act,” Dr Freier said, adding that he felt personal sense of shame and sorrow at the way survivors’ voices were often silenced and the apparent interests of the Church put first.

“We eagerly await the Royal Commission’s recommendations. We believe that the rigorous and independent scrutiny the commission has provided is greatly to our benefit. There is a pronounced appetite for change inside the Anglican Church. We are determined to apply best practice so that the Church is a truly safe place for children.” (See Dr Freier’s full statement at

In an opening statement to the hearing, the General Secretary of the General Synod, Ms Anne Hywood, said the Anglican Church recognised that it had further work to do and looked forward to the assistance of the Royal Commission to help the Church put in place “the highest standards of child protection and the best possible response to survivors”.

“We are prepared to confront the challenges that will be put to us,” Ms Hywood said.

“We have already been confronted.”

Ms Hywood said the Commission would hear much discussion about how the Church’s federal structure created barriers to a national, consistent approach by the 23 dioceses and its many schools and agencies.

“Our actions in responding to child sexual abuse cannot be limited by our structures, our culture or our differences,” she said. “We recognise the imperative for a nationally consistent approach to child protection and a structure to deliver the best possible response to those who have been harmed in our care.” (See Ms Hywood’s full statement at

In her opening address, Ms Furness said 74% of complaints against Anglican institutions involved alleged child sexual abuse that started between 1950 and 1989, with the largest proportion of first alleged incidents (25%) occurring in the 1970s. Three-quarters of complainants were male, while 94% of alleged perpetrators were male.

The average age of people who made complaints was 11 years at the time of the alleged abuse, while the average time between the alleged abuse and the date a complaint was made was 29 years.

Among alleged clergy perpetrators, 45 attended St John’s College Morpeth, NSW, and 29 attended St Francis’ Theological College in Brisbane. But for 55 alleged clerical perpetrators, the theological college they attended was unknown.

“Overall, 459 complaints resulted in a payment being made following a complaint for redress,” Ms Furness told the hearing. “This amounted to 41 per cent of all complaints.

“Including amounts for monetary compensation, treatment, legal and other costs, Anglican Church dioceses made total payments of nearly $31 million, at an average of approximately $67,000 per payment. The highest average monetary payment paid was through civil proceedings at approximately $113,000 per complainant.

“In 25 per cent of complaints, the complainant received an apology from the diocese.”

Ms Furness said the Royal Commission had conducted public hearings in relation to 116 institutions over the past four years.

“It was plain that hearings were needed to examine the responses of faith-based institutions, given that, as at the end of 2016, 60 per cent of survivors attending a private session reported abuse in those institutions,” she said. “Of those survivors, 15 per cent reported abuse in institutions associated with the Anglican Church. While the percentage has varied over time, as at the end of 2016, almost 9 per cent of all private session attendees reported sexual abuse in an institution associated with the Anglican Church.”

While Roman Catholic authorities had been asked to provide information about claims for redress, Anglican dioceses were asked to provide information about complaints received by dioceses. While Catholic authorities provided information about all claims for redress received by institutions within their authority, some Anglican dioceses did not require associated institutions, such as schools, to report complaints to the diocese.

The data collected included complaints of child sexual abuse accepted by an Anglican Church diocese, complaints discontinued before the Anglican Church diocese could investigate the allegations and complaints where the alleged abuse was investigated and not accepted.

“As I have explained, the data results do not include all complaints of child sexual abuse relating to all institutions associated with the Anglican Church in Australia and do not indicate the total number of incidents of child sexual abuse in Anglican Church institutions in Australia,” Ms Furness said.

“Furthermore, the data results are likely to underreport the incidence of child sexual abuse in Anglican Church institutions as the Royal Commission’s experience is that many survivors face barriers which deter them from reporting abuse to external authorities and to the institution in which the abuse occurred.”

Ms Furness said the Royal Commission had issued more than 150 notices to produce documents to Anglican institutions – including all dioceses, the General Synod, the Episcopal Standards Commission and Anglican Aid Abroad – yielding about 1.5 million documents. The Commission had heard evidence from 169 witnesses in case studies focusing on the Anglican Church in Australia, including some witnesses who had been called to appear at more than one public hearing, generating 7290 pages of transcript of evidence and 460 exhibits.

She said 500 people who attended private sessions with the Commission to the end of last year reported that they had been sexually abused as a child in an institution associated with the Anglican Church.

“Most of those institutions have not been considered in a case study. The type of Anglican institutions reported by private session attendees, for example a school or parish, the state or territory in which they were located and the diocese which was responsible will be published in the final report. All other institutions reported in a private session and not considered in a public hearing will also be documented in the final report in the same manner.” (See Ms Furness’ opening address at

On the first day of the hearing, the Commissioners heard evidence from a panel regarding the structural, governance and cultural factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse at Anglican institutions in Australia, or affected the institutional response of Anglican authorities to child sexual abuse.

Bishop Greg Thompson, who the previous day had announced his resignation as Bishop of Newcastle from 31 May, told the hearing that he needed to have a long break “and will be considering about what that involves, in terms of the Church or beyond the Church”.

In his resignation statement on 16 March, Bishop Thompson – who is a survivor of clerical sexual abuse – said: “When I started this journey to right the wrongs of child abuse in the Diocese I didn’t expect to be in this position, nor did I expect to uncover systemic practices that have enabled the horrendous crimes against children.

“The decision to resign was not an easy one, it weighed heavily on my heart. However, I must place the wellbeing of my family and my health above my job.”

Giving evidence to the Royal Commission on 17 March, he said conflicts of interest arose around friendships, where clergy who had offended had been afforded a lot of protection. “People refuse to accept that their loved priest has been an offender.”

Bishop Thompson said mutual respect in the Church had been severely damaged in recent years over the debates around sexuality, same-sex marriage, the authority of the Bible “and a diminishment of our common life”.

“Now that overlays the important prioritisation of child protection and a national response. It certainly has meant that in the Diocese of Newcastle, in trying to deliver change, as the bishop and leader, I've had to manage the extremes of Anglo-Catholic and evangelical disputes over these matters, and that has been difficult, because it has deflected where the energy and resources need to go.

“I'm really disappointed that the national church hasn't been galvanised for years to have a common national response, and I think it's been undermined by tribal interests, vested interests in keeping the jurisdictions of not allowing someone else coming into our territory to tell us what to do. And this is so disappointing. It's as if the child protection, child safety thrust is being overwhelmed by these other vested interests, and they need to be examined. I think there needs to be an honesty about it rather than this veneer of nice Anglicanism – we ought to be nice to each other but in reality we're in competition with each other.”

Melbourne Anglican author, journalist and retired academic, Dr Muriel Porter, said that in dioceses where women had been accepted as priests and now as bishops, there had been a huge culture change, “and wherever women are in a significant number, then clericalism is very quickly breaking down”.

“In fact, in a diocese such as Melbourne, where the women now are quite a large percentage - 20 per cent at least, of the ordained are women, a third of the synod, a third of the Diocesan Council, where they have just passed… a rule that 50 per cent of committees must be populated by women – that is seeing a huge difference, to the point that I actually see laity as assuming much more power than the clergy in many of the parishes.”

Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane, a former Primate, said that while General Synod could pass a canon about child protection with sufficient majorities for that to become a canon of the General Synod, because it would involve order and good government in a diocese, it would then require each of the 23 dioceses to adopt that canon.

“So, technically, it can be done. Our experience shows that very often we don't get uniform acceptance of those measures,” he said.

Justice McClellan intervened during Dr Aspinall’s testimony: “You can assume that the six Commissioners are of one mind: there should not be inconsistency of approach to these issues in one part of Australia different to another. That's as much in your Church as it is in any other Church.

Dr Aspinall: “Yes, and I think that will be very welcome, your Honour.”

Ms Furness asked: “What does it say about the Church, Archbishop, that it needs such a thing (a recommendation from the Royal Commission) to undertake such reform, which you would accept, I'm sure, is necessary?”

Dr Aspinall: “Yes, I think everybody accepts that reform is necessary. I think it's when it comes to the detail, Ms Furness, that there are disagreements about details, and anybody looking objectively at the history of the Anglican Church of Australia will see that we have really struggled to deliver uniformity. It is a problem for us and it is, I think, because it is enshrined structurally in our constitution. When the power lies in the diocese, it's almost a recipe to guarantee diversity.”

On Monday 20 March, three panels will be convened on the screening and training of clergy and church workers; on issues arising in the context of the Anglican Church’s community services organisations such as Anglicare; and on issues arising in the context of the Anglican Church’s related education bodies.

On Tuesday 21 March, the Commissioners will hear evidence from two panels of witnesses on professional standards in the Anglican Church.

The final day of the hearing, Wednesday 22 March, is to hear from Archbishop Freier, Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney and Archbishop-elect Geoffrey Smith of Adelaide (until now an assistant bishop and registrar of Brisbane diocese), including on the Church’s response to the Federal Government’s announcement last November of a national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse.

The hearing is being held before all six Commissioners – Mr Justice McClellan, a Judge of Appeal in NSW; Victorian Justice Jennifer Coate, a Judge of the Family Court; former Queensland Police Commissioner Mr Bob Atkinson; Productivity Commissioner and prominent Roman Catholic layman Mr Robert Fitzgerald; West Australian Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Professor Helen Milroy, a descendant of the Palyku people of WA’s Pilbara region; and former WA Democrats senator Mr Andrew Murray, who was placed in a children’s home in England at the age of two and at four sent to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as a child migrant under the Fairbridge scheme.

Day two of the hearing starts at 10am in Sydney on 20 March.


If you or anyone you know needs help, call:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78