22 April 2024

No appeal on Hollingworth decision after ex Archbishop gives up PTO

Elspeth Kernebone

26 May 2023

A regulatory committee has declined to challenge misconduct determination against a former Brisbane archbishop, despite stating that it disagreed with several aspects of the findings.

It comes after former Archbishop of Brisbane Peter Hollingworth gave up his permission to officiate in the Melbourne diocese.

The Melbourne diocese’s Professional Standards Committee has announced it will not appeal a determination from the diocese’s Professional Standards Board which found former Brisbane archbishop Peter Hollingworth could continue in ministry, despite upholding seven of 10 complaints made against him.

It comes after Dr Hollingworth announced on 12 May he would return his permission to officiate.

The committee said it decided not appeal the board’s decision given Dr Hollingworth’s return of his permission to officiate, his confirmation this relinquishment was permanent, and his undertaking that he would not in the future apply for a permission to officiate in any diocese within the Anglican Church of Australia.

It said in this way, the result the committee was seeking had been achieved, in that Dr Hollingworth could no longer participate in ministry.

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In its statement, the committee said it did not agree with several aspects of the board’s April decision. It said it had been minded to appeal to the Review Board, but decided not to given the subsequent events.

The committee named as particular concern the board’s finding that Dr Hollingworth was fit to remain in ministry and could retain his permission to officiate, given that serious allegations of misconduct had been established.

In late April, the diocese’s Professional Standards Board found that Dr Hollingworth had committed misconduct in seven of 10 allegations of misconduct made against him. Despite this it found Dr Hollingworth was fit for ministry in the current roles and positions within the church he held.

The board recommended the Archbishop of Melbourne require Dr Hollingworth apologise to abuse survivor Beth Heinrich for his decision to retain Donald Shearman in ministry despite his knowledge of Shearman’s sexual abuse of Ms Heinrich, 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. 

Among the board’s findings of misconduct were 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. 

It also 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.  

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

In its 25 May statement, the Professional Standards Committee said it had determined not to appeal the decision of the Professional Standards Board in light of Dr Hollingworth’s relinquishment of his permission to officiate, and his undertaking never to apply for one in the future.

Kooyoora Office of Professional Standards chief executive Fiona Boyle said the organisation was pleased the process had concluded as it knew such processes were difficult, in response to the committee’s statement.

Ms Boyle said Kooyoora’s primary concern was for the people affected by decisions, and anyone considering making any report to Kooyoora.

She said Kooyoora would say to those people that the board’s determination was not a typical case.

Ms Boyle said last year Kooyoora’s average matter resolution time was 83 days, with wellbeing coordinators available to support people through every step of the process.

In its 25 May statement, committee said it referred three complaints against Dr Hollingworth to the board on 15 June, 2021, which formed the bases of 10 allegations. These allegations were that Dr Hollingworth engaged in conduct that was unbecoming or inappropriate for a cleric in his position, and included allegations that he permitted persons who had sexually assaulted children to remain in ministry.

It said it also referred Dr Hollingworth’s application for clearance for ministry to the board, as it was not satisfied that Dr Hollingworth was unconditionally fit for ministry.

The committee said it urged the board to find each of the allegations of misconduct were proven. It said it urged the board to find in the event some or all of the allegations were proven:

  1. That Dr Hollingworth was unfit for ministry, or should otherwise be subject to a condition or restriction.
  2. That Dr Hollingworth’s permission to officiate should be removed and that he should not be granted clearance for ministry.
  3. He ought to be reprimanded.
  4. A procedure should be established in relation to apologies to certain persons affected by the misconduct.

The committee said it submitted that it was open for the board to recommend removal from holy orders.

Dr Hollingworth’s lawyer Bill Doogue issued a statement on his behalf, saying the Professional Standards Committee had failed to notify Dr Hollingworth that it was not appealing the Professional Standards Board’s decision. Mr Doogue said the committee instead released a statement that was not sent to Dr Hollingworth.

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