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Independent body to investigate sex abuse complaints

Posted on: October 24, 2016 1:52 PM
Posed by a model
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[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Complaints of church-based sexual abuse in Australia’s internal province of Victoria will be investigated by an independent body with its own board of directors. The dioceses of Melbourne and Bendigo have already approved the new structure, which will be considered by the dioceses of Wangaratta, Ballarat and Gippsland next year. The new body is being established by the Church but is separate from the dioceses and their archbishop. It will work across a number of dioceses.

The new body is included in new legislation approved by the Melbourne Synod at its meeting last week. The new legislation – created in part as a response to the Royal Commission and the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child sexual abuse – is “aimed at improving transparency, independence and avenues of redress for victims,” a diocesan spokesman said.

“There’s a need to act, and there’s a need to act now because we know enough to know what we should be doing,” Melbourne registrar Ken Spackman said, as he addressed the Synod meeting. He said that the chairman of the Royal Commission, Peter McClellan, had spoken twice to meetings of Anglican bishops and “dismissed the difficulties that we have”.

Mr McClellan added: “He has come back to ‘You have the ability to act if you wish, and you should wish’, and we do wish and this is why we are before you tonight.”

The Chancellor, Michael Shand QC, said that the bill “mandates a caring and transparent process; one with compassion, integrity, clarity and respect for all involved”.

He said several Royal Commission hearings heard “horrific evidence of persistent child abuse by (Anglican) clergy and others” that caused incalculable damage to survivors and their families, and called into question the conduct of diocesan bishops at the time.

Earlier this month, Roger Herft, the Archbishop of Perth, in the internal province of Western Australia, announced that he was “standing aside” from his duties after he admitted that he failed to act on repeated reports that priests in his former diocese of Newcastle were sexually abusing children.

In August, he told Australia’s Royal Commission that he had previously given “incorrect” evidence under oath when he denied knowing accusations against a priest. Evidence later showed that he was warned on three separate occasions that the man was a sexual abuser.

In a letter to his diocese announcing the move, Archbishop Herft said: “I have decided to voluntarily stand aside from my role, function and duties as Archbishop of Perth . . . with immediate effect. This will include all duties, including ordinations, pastoral visits, public functions, synod, diocesan council, correspondence and other related engagements.

“I have taken this decision after much prayer, thought and consultation with my advisers to allow for the mission and ministry of the diocese of Perth to flourish. I am humbled by the courage and fortitude of survivors and victims of child sexual abuse as they continue to bear witness to their stories of suffering.”

The Royal Commission will resume hearing evidence about the diocese of Newcastle in mid-November.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a separate official independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has warned the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, that he “may face explicit criticism” over his handling of accusations against the former bishop of Lewes, Peter Ball.

Ball was convicted last year of indecent assault and misconduct in public office relating to offences dating back to 1977. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison after he admitted abusing 18 young men. The criticism of former Archbishop Carey stems from his handling of allegations that surfaced in 1993 when Ball resigned from his position as Bishop of Gloucester after accepting an out-of-court official police caution for an act of gross indecency.

The British inquiry has launched a specific investigation into what it has called “the Anglican Church in England and Wales” – the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Part of that investigation will focus on the Peter Ball case. The inquiry is at an evidence-gathering stage and is unlikely to begin substantive public hearings until next year.