31 May 2023

Board recommends apologies, but Hollingworth permitted to continue in ministries

Elspeth Kernebone

24 April 2023

The Melbourne diocese’s Professional Standards Board has determined that former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane Peter Hollingworth may continue in the positions of ministry he currently holds, despite finding that he had committed misconduct in seven of the 10 complaints made against him.

The Professional Standards Board found that in about late 1993 and in 1998 Dr Hollingworth without proper justification permitted John Elliot to remain in ministry, when he knew Elliot had sexually assaulted children and that he posed a risk to the safety and wellbeing of children. 

Dr Hollingworth was appointed Archbishop of Brisbane in 1989. He was Governor General of Australia from 2001 to 2003. 

Read more: Archbishop defends Melbourne diocesan response to complaints about Peter Hollingworth

It determined that he had committed misconduct by in about 1995 permitting Donald Shearman, who he knew had sexually assaulted a child, to retain his permission to officiate.  

It also found that in about 2002 he had made a statement about a victim of sexual assault by Donald Shearman that was “unsatisfactory, insensitive and that he should have foreseen was likely to be distressing”, and in June 2000 he made a public statement “that was inaccurate and he ought reasonably to have known was likely to be distressing to the victims of sexual assault committed by a school counsellor, Kevin Lynch”. 

The board found that in 2000 Dr Hollingworth had made an unreasonable and dangerous appointment to a position of responsibility and authority within the Anglican Church. 

The Professional Standards Board recommended that the Archbishop of Melbourne on behalf of the Melbourne Diocese and the Anglican Church of Australia reprimand Dr Hollingworth for his decision to retain John Elliot and Donald Shearman in ministry and his harsh and insensitive communications with and letters about the victims of those abusers. 

It recommended that as a condition of being granted permission to officiate in any church service Dr Hollingworth be required by the Archbishop of Melbourne to offer apologies to one person and his family for his two decisions to retain John Elliot in ministry, despite his knowledge of sexual abuse committed by John Elliot.  

It recommended that the Archbishop of Melbourne require Dr Hollingworth apologise to Beth Heinrich for Dr Hollingworth’s decision to retain Donald Shearman in ministry despite his knowledge of Donald Shearman’s sexual abuse of Ms Heinrich, and his failure to understand and give proper weight to the harm suffered by Ms Heinrich as a result of Donald Shearman’s abuse, and for his “harsh, dismissive and insensitive words” about Ms Heinrich broadcast on Australian Story in 2002. 

The board dismissed allegations that: 

  • Dr Hollingworth had failed to make proper efforts to provide care and support to two young people who disclosed they were sexually assaulted by a teacher at an Anglican school. 
  • That in about February 2002 during the course of an Australian Story interview, Dr Hollingworth intentionally or recklessly made an inaccurate public statement that he had never met any of the family of a boy abused by John Elliot. 
  • That Dr Hollingworth had committed alleged misconduct of intentionally or recklessly permitting his lawyers to send a letter to the Brisbane Inquiry which contained a false or misleading statement that the abuse committed by Elliot had been a “single, isolated incident”, when in fact there had been multiple abusive incidents. 

The board said it had determined that Dr Hollingworth was “fit for ministry subject to the condition that his ministry be confined to the role office or position in the church that he currently holds”. It named these as:  

  • Assisting with services at his local parish, currently St George’s Malvern 
  • Taking quarterly Eucharist at the Community of the Holy Name 
  • Taking monthly lunchtime Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral 
  • Facilitating weddings, funerals and baptisms and other services when invited 
  • Taking part in various ceremonies at the Cathedral, such as the Ordination of Priests and Consecration of Bishops. 

Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier said in a statement that the Professional Standards Board had recommended he reprimand Dr Peter Hollingworth for his decision to retain in ministry two members of clergy in Queensland Dr Hollingworth knew to be offenders, and for his “harsh and insensitive” communications with and about the victims of those abusers. 

Dr Freier said the board had also recommended that Dr Hollingworth be required to apologise to these complainants, as a condition of holding permission to officiate in Melbourne. 

Dr Freier said he would give effect to the board’s recommendations, and would publish a written statement in the coming days. 

He said in addition to his obligations as a church authority under the diocese’s legislation, he had obligations as Head of Entity under the Victorian Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005. He said he had written to the Commission for Children and Young People and would continue to work with them to ensure he fully discharged his obligations under that act. 

Dr Hollingworth said in a statement that he accepted the Melbourne diocese’s Professional Standards Board’s recommendations, and looked forward to these matters finally being put to rest. 

He said all allegations presented to the Melbourne diocese Professional Standards Board had previously been considered by four separate inquiries, none of which recommended sanctions. 

“I made mistakes and I cannot undo them. But I committed no crimes. There is no evidence that there was any abuse because of any decisions I made, or did not make,” Dr Hollingworth said. 

“Hardly a day has passed in the past 30 years when I have not reflected on these matters and my failings. I had devoted my life to social justice, pastoral care and healing but I had little experience in dealing with the child abuse issues. Like other church leaders, I was unduly influenced by the advice of lawyers and insurance companies.” 

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