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Anglican redress scheme well received, says Archbishop

Archbishop Philip Freier's address to the Melbourne synod on 17 October covered a range of issues including the redress scheme for victims of clergy child sexual abuse, asylum seeker policy, and same-sex marriage.

PHOTO: Janine Eastgate

By Roland Ashby

October 18 2018The new Melbourne Anglican redress scheme for victims of clergy child sexual abuse has received positive feedback from survivors and advocacy groups, Archbishop Philip Freier has told the annual Melbourne synod, or parliament, at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The scheme, established at the invitation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, will operate as an interim scheme until the diocese joins the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme, and will sit alongside the national scheme for any redress matters that fall outside its scope.

“Our scheme, which takes a trauma-informed approach, provides access to care and contact as required by the survivor across their lifetime,” Archbishop Freier said in his opening address to synod on Wednesday night (17 October).

“The national scheme, as it currently operates, has a more limited opportunity for counselling support.”

Archbishop Freier, who is Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said actuarial modelling shows redress will cost the Melbourne diocese between $12 million and $21 million, which will significantly affect the budget over the next decade.

He said the Prime Minister’s apology to survivors of child sexual abuse, to be made on 22 October, “will be another reminder to us all of the devastating impact of abuse perpetrated by people who held trusted positions in the Church and other institutions in our recent history”.

“I reiterate my apology to all survivors of abuse at the hands of those whom they trusted and in whose care they relied upon, especially within the Anglican Church. We have failed you, we believe you and we are sorry.”

Anglican parishes have also worked hard to enhance child safety over the past year, and the diocese’s prevention of violence against women program has also expanded, he said.

“At the heart of our Gospel mission is the proclamation of God’s reign of peace and justice. The Church truly being a safe place for all is an inevitable consequence of this Gospel truth and I know that you will continue to join with me in the challenge of enacting that imperative in the church communities in which we worship and serve.

“The Church has always stood as a bastion of safety and refuge. We cannot hope to speak into this need without the trust and social licence of the community. As we see increasing violence, inequality and domestic partner abuse, we need to be a prophetic voice of healing in this complex and worrying situation.

“Embedding a culture of safety and accountability is vital for its own sake and for the sake of those we are called to serve.”

He said that Kooyoora, the independent company which administers professional standards in the diocese, has, since January this year, received 161 requests for assistance and 32 complaints through its 1800 number. Kooyoora has processed 132 clearances for ministry and good standing requests and has become the point of contact for the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons (CCYP).

“When we adopted the Professional Standards Uniform Act we expected that the cost of Professional Standards management in the diocese would in time reduce,” said Archbishop Freier. “To date this has not been the case, which is disappointing. At that time in 2016 we did not anticipate the increased reach and complexity of safe ministry checks, the impact of introducing clearance for service and the requirements of mandatory reporting and the requirements of the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons. As well as these operational and compliance demands we have also seen the growth of complaints of bullying arising out of parish ministry contexts.”

He said it is probable that the costs associated with Kooyoora “will be more than double the $450k allocated in this year’s budget and our planning for 2019 indicates a likely funding requirement of $1.3m for this activity. These are significant costs and work is underway to understand from Kooyoora how the direct costs of their operation can be contained and reduced over time.

“This is likely to involve a greater emphasis on preventing conflict and disputes in parishes escalating into bullying complaints. Alternative dispute resolution pathways are available and may need to be activated earlier and more often to respond to matters that are more suited to resolution by this means. Indeed, we have already seen the deployment of teams within the Diocese to assist parishes where low-level conflict exists.”

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage is a significant pastoral matter for the church, Archbishop Freier said. Anglican clergy are authorised to officiate only at the marriage of a man and a woman, but “the commitment of love and self-sacrifice to each other in marriage is a very personal commitment as much as it is a key relational building block of our society”.

He added: “Christianity will be seen by some as a central plank of the hetero-normative culture that has criminalised homosexual people and their behaviour and still doggedly resists change. For others it is a first order concern to uphold the received teaching of the Church that marriage is only open to people who are heterosexual in their attractions and relationships. It is easy to see how this becomes a very personal and sometimes risky conversation when people disagree. It is no wonder that suggestions about continuing conversation are met with circumspection.

“Archbishop Justin Welby has made the case for what we might call ‘good disagreement’. He says, ‘We are one because Christ made us one, in spite of our disagreement. The koinonia of the Anglican Communion holds within its unity, difference and deep disagreement. It is by staying together in our disagreement that we bear witness to Christ as our only source of Communion. Deep disagreement may well make that certain communion less visible and more strained, but if communion is indeed the irreversible achievement of the Paschal Mystery, nothing we can do can break it. If the Church is called to be the sign and servant of God’s design for the communion of all under the Lordship of Christ (Ephesians 1), then maintaining communion at a time of serious disagreement becomes an evangelical witness.’

“We need to approach the items on our synod agenda that open up this significant concern and different points of view with prayer and confidence in the deep Communion to which we have been called in Christ. Kindness in thought and speech towards those with whom we disagree will undoubtedly be a great virtue in our life together in these next days.”

Asylum seekers

Archbishop Freier said that Australia would soon be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Australian Dr H.V. Evatt was influential in the shape of the final draft.

“It is a tragic irony that a country like ours with such a proud history of asserting the moral truth contained in the Declaration is responsible for the continued suffering and despair of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

“The bipartisan support for the current policies is a cause for profound dissatisfaction for many of us. Synod members who were here in 2014 will recall gathering for a photo just outside on the Cathedral pavement under what was, then, the new banner that proclaimed, ‘Let’s make refugees fully welcome’ as an expression of our solidarity with refugees who have found a home here in Australia, those who face an uncertain future in transit countries as well as those stranded in offshore detention. How sad that four more years have passed with no meaningful change to the prospects of the men on Manus Island and families on Nauru.” 

Bishop Huggins and Bishop Prowd

Archbishop Freier paid tribute to Bishop Philip Huggins, who retired as Bishop of the Oodthenong Episcopate on 16 October, when he turned 70, the year at which Anglican Bishops are required to retire. Archbishop Freier praised him for his “long and meritorious service” and for being “a generous disciple of Jesus… and one of the most intentional people I know in keeping Our Lord in his heart and his mind as he goes about his daily ministry”.

He also thanked him for his “unfailing advocacy for those people who would have otherwise gone unchampioned in the community”.

Archbishop Freier also welcomed Bishop Kate Prowd as Bishop Huggins’ successor as Bishop of the Oodthenong Episcopate.

“Bishop Kate has maintained a bi-vocational ministry in her profession as a Psychologist alongside chaplaincy, parish and Examining Chaplain ministries. I think that there will be more ordination candidates in the future in whom we may recognise a bi-vocational ministry. Kate’s appointment as a bishop will give heart to younger candidates that this is ‘real’ ministry that does not cut them out from senior leadership in the Church.

“I also think that it is good to have another woman in the team of bishops in Melbourne. I know from talking with some of the younger women clergy in this diocese that our ministry culture and practice is still experienced as shaped by and for men. I don’t think that we can be complacent about this and need to actively shape the culture of ministry in this diocese by having more women in senior positions of responsibility.”

Other key items in Archbishop Freier’s address included:

  • Both the number and quality of aspirants and candidates for ordination continues to be strong, Archbishop Freier said. There are about 30 candidates studying for ordination and the same number in the discernment program. Diversity is also rising, with nearly 50 clergy ministering in a language or culture-specific context.
  • A meeting of the five Aboriginal priests in the diocese at Bishopscourt has led to a new initiative: a monthly meeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people led by the Revds Shannon Smith, Glenn Loughrey and Garry Worete Deverell.
  • The Melbourne Anglican Foundation has committed $250,000 to seed-funding church planting initiatives in urban growth areas.
  • Archbishop Freier said a new model of youth ministry in the Diocese, developed by the Revd Conrad Parsons as part of the Parish Mission Resourcing Team, is designed to create communities of practice for youth ministers and volunteers on three levels: specialists, new youth ministers and volunteer youth ministers. “This model seeks to incubate new leaders and create a pipeline of new and emerging youth leaders,” Archbishop Freier said.  

“Developing effective programs that engage with the spiritual aspirations of the younger members of the Diocese is critical for the future of the diocese. I am establishing a Youth Advisory Forum in 2019. This forum will meet twice a year and provide a place for the voice for our young people to be heard. Meetings are planned next year for February and August.”

Read Archbishop Philip Freier's full address to the synod here.