The Media Release of the Primate, Archbishop Keith Rayner
In a pastoral letter read out today in the churches of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn the Right Reverend George Browning announced his intention to resign as Bishop of that Diocese. In his pastoral letter Bishop Browning said:
"In the last 18 months I have been caught up in a process of inquiry relating to a single incident in my life which occurred some time before I became a bishop (more than 15 years ago), and involving a female parishioner. The incident was one which I have always utterly regretted, repented of, and believed I have been forgiven for, and until recent times I have been totally oblivious of any complaint against me, or hurt caused by me."
Commenting on Bishop Browning's decision to resign, the Primate of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Keith Rayner, said that the single incident referred to involved an act of sexual intercourse within the context of a pastoral relationship. No criminal offence was involved. A charge had been heard by the Church's Special Tribunal following a complaint from the woman involved. Bishop Browning had freely admitted the matter and had expressed profound apology and made reparation to the other person.
Dr Rayner expressed his deep sadness at Bishop Browning's resignation and the circumstances which led to it. "The Church regards with the utmost seriousness a failure of this kind by one of its clergy," Archbishop Rayner said. "For that reason the Tribunal advised that the matter should be openly revealed so that there could be no question that it was being covered up."
Dr Rayner added that at the same time the Tribunal took full account of the evidence of the bishop's genuine repentance, the profound apology which the bishop had made to the person concerned, the period of time which had elapsed, the fact that there was no suggestion of a repetition of the sin, and the bishop's otherwise unblemished record.
For these reasons the Tribunal by majority judgement recommended that the matter should first be revealed to the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn and that the Council, which is the senior representative body of the diocese, should have an opportunity to express its confidence in the bishop.
Bishop Browning had decided, however, that in order to spare the diocese the pain which would be involved in the decision he would resign as Bishop of the Diocese.
The Canberra and Goulburn Diocesan Council passed a long motion of support for Bishop Browning, in which it:
"affirms unequivocally Bishop George, his ministry and leadership, his dedicated and unstinting service to the Diocese and Church of God, his manifest and extraordinary gifts and abilities, his passion and commitment to the Gospel, his grace of person, and his future potential for ministry in the Church."
The Council added that:
"while wishing his decision to resign were otherwise, expressed its total support and love to him and Margaret (Mrs Browning)."
Archbishop Rayner said this had been a profoundly painful matter for all concerned. "On behalf of the Church I apologise to the woman concerned for what she has been through. I am very sorry for the pain and hurt caused," he said. "At the same time I am grieved that Bishop Browning's episcopate, which has won great admiration in every respect, has been terminated in these circumstances. I feel deeply for George and Margaret Browning and their family and for the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn."
"The Christian Gospel takes human failure seriously," said Dr Rayner. "But it takes equally seriously Christ's Gospel of grace, forgiveness and restoration to new life. Bishop Browning has decided to resign for the sake of this Diocese, and I respect that decision. But I am sure it will be right for the Church to find ways by which his dedicated service and great gifts can be used in the future."
Archbishop Rayner added: "I want to thank George Browning for his distinguished ministry in the past and affirm my confidence that God will have important new ministries for him in the future."