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Diocese of Melbourne hits back at ABC News coverage of safeguarding complaints

Posted on: August 10, 2018 11:15 AM
The former Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Peter Hollingworth
Photo Credit: Office of the Governor-General of Australia

The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne and the independent body it established to investigate complaints against clergy have hit back at media reports concerning their handling of complaints against a former Archbishop of Brisbane. Dr Peter Hollingworth served as Archbishop of Brisbane from 1989 until 2001, before becoming Governor-General of Australia. He was forced to step down in 2003 after criticisms emerged of his handling, as archbishop, of allegations of abuse committed by clergy and teachers.

Last year, the Royal Commission of Inquiry said that Hollingworth had made a “serious error of judgement” in allowing a priest to continue to serve until retirement despite having admitted to sexually abusing two boys. He had failed to take into account a psychiatrist’s advice that the priest was an “untreatable” paedophile who posed a risk of re-offending.

The 83-year-old retired bishop has Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Melbourne – described as being limited to “ceremonies for old friends, and occasional sermons in the cathedral.” But a victim of abuse by teachers at an Anglican school, known as “Lyndal”, who won a judgment against the diocese of Brisbane, told ABC News that the decision to give Dr Hollingworth Permission to Officiate was “a slap in the face to all the victims.”

“The Anglican Church should be taking a stance to say, ‘No, we need to make an example, to show across the world that we are serious about this’”, she said. “Clearly, they’re not.”

Lyndal is one of a number of victims and others quoted by ABC News in a series of reports this week critical of Dr Hollingworth and his continued ministry. They question why the State’s Commission for Children and Young People granted a “Working With Children Card”, described as a prerequisite for all Anglican clergy; why he continues to have Permission to Officiate; accuse the diocese of not dealing with complaints; and said he should no longer be entitled to payments and privileges as a former Governor-General.

In a follow-up article to the ABC News reports, The Guardian newspaper has questioned the independence of Kooyoora, the independent body established to handle conduct complaints about clergy in the Dioceses of Melbourne and Bendigo, saying it is funded by the Diocese.

But now the Diocese of Melbourne, Archbishop Philip Freier, and Kooyoora have all hit back. Archbishop Philip Freier rejected accusations that the diocese had ignored the complaints and said that all complaints against clergy were taken “very seriously”.

In a statement earlier this week, the diocese said that all complaints were notified to the State’s Commission for Children and Young People where required and handled by the independent complaints body, Kooyoora Ltd. The process “held people accountable for their conduct and made determinations as to their fitness for office,” the diocese said.

“Under the process, Archbishop Freier is bound to follow any substantive recommendation of Kooyoora’s independent Professional Standards Board or Review Board, and must make public the action he takes.”

The diocese said that its processes were enacted in October 2016 and put before the Royal Commission at hearings in March 2017. “The Royal Commission in its final report spoke favourably of these initiatives, and said that the independent corporate entity could in fact operate nationally and have within its remit the implementation of consistent child safe standards across all Anglican Church dioceses.” The diocese said.

Archbishop Philip said: “A significant learning from the Royal Commission is that robust and independent processes provide the best protection. . . My role is to respect that independent process and allow it to do its work, free of interference or public commentary from the Church.”

Today, Kooyoora also responded, saying that the news articles “have contained major inaccuracies and have drawn false conclusions.” It said that it wanted to “set the record straight” while respecting “the proper limits of confidentiality imposed on Kooyoora to ensure that the scheme operates fairly for all concerned.”

“Kooyoora operates under an independent board, and is required to follow the procedure set out in the Professional Standards Act, diocesan legislation subscribed to by the dioceses of Melbourne and Bendigo.

“In accordance with this procedure, complaints are investigated by Kooyoora, allowing all those who have chosen to be part of the process, to provide information and responses. A process of natural justice is adhered to.

“The Professional Standards Committee assesses this material and in appropriate cases will present this information to the independent Professional Standards Board, which then makes its own determination. Pre-judgment of a matter by Kooyoora or its staff is not part of the process and would be unfair to participants and contrary to principles of natural justice.”

Kooyoora said that it was “properly constrained from commenting publicly on complaints received, whether an investigation is in process or what stage any investigation might have reached”, saying that the constrains were necessary “to ensure a fair process occurs, and to protect both survivor / complainants and respondents.”.

It said that its determinations are required to be made public at the end of the process.