Part 1 - Hollingworth events
as at March 2002

The Hollingworth saga, as it is becoming known, began 12 years ago, when Hollingworth, with a Diploma of Social Studies and twenty-five years experience in the welfare organisation The Brotherhood of St Laurence, was appointed archbishop of Brisbane. One could be pardoned for thinking that the appointment of a social worker, combined with his assumed godliness, would be a beneficial combination. And so it appeared. Hollingworth made a name for himself as a champion of welfare issues, and a spokesperson on rights abuses. But the litany of abuse cover-ups that is emerging shows another side to those 12 years.

There is the 1990 case of the abuses by Kevin Guy, at Toowoomba Prep School, in which Hollingworth admits to doing less than he should have. There is the case of a victim who complained to Hollingworth in 1993 and was told "these things are best handled internally... there's no need to involve [the police]". There is the case of the 15 year old girl abused by her local priest, who by the time of the complaint in 1995 was a retired bishop active in Hollingworth's diocese, and from whom he refused to ask more than an apology. There is the case of Ross McAuley, appointed by Hollingworth to the Synod Sexual Misconduct Complaints Committee in 1996 only six months after being the subject of a complaint. There is the case of a victim and his father, silenced for years under a 1997 confidentiality clause after a complaint to Hollingworth. There is another father, who was told by Hollingworth that his son's perpetrator "was 62 and unlikely to get another job if sacked", presumably as justification for retaining him. There is the case of the young businessman who sought to tell Hollingworth his story in 2000 after being indirectly (and unintentionally, let it be added) referred to as "deviant and misfit and can't be trusted". And there is the fact that the current archbishop of Brisbane, Philip Aspinall, has said that the "independent inquiry" he is seeking to establish will be examining some 40 to 50 sex abuse cases from the last decade[1]. How many cases did Hollingworth fail to act on, cover up, and push under the carpet? No-one knows.

The fact that these issues are only now being spoken about has led some to argue that Hollingworth is being targeted as a result of his move from the archbishopric to the governor-generalship. And to some extent, this may be true. As governor-general, Hollingworth is accountable to many more people, and in fact many more people who aren't afraid to call him to account, than he was as archbishop. Yet to see it as only that is simplistic. The court case that resulted in a damages award last December was against the diocese, not against Hollingworth. The victim did not seek to target Hollingworth; but her evidence, and other evidence presented as part of the case, showed clearly that Hollingworth had been at best inactive, at worst negligent. It is the similar stories that have been brought to light since then that have alerted us to the magnitude of the issue.

Hollingworth's claim, in a letter to a complainant early last year, that he was "monitoring the situation closely" stands in stark contrast to his argument that he was too busy, and too far removed, to have personal responsibility for such issues. His defence for his inaction over the Toowoomba Prep incident has been that he was under stress, not up to it, or other similar comments. We are presumably supposed to believe that a priest comes under such stress upon becoming an archbishop that he can't even display compassion and make sure compassionate action is taken!

His actions, and even his comments on Australian Story, tell a sorry tale. He argues that he "confronted [McAuley], who assured Hollingworth it wasn't him" and Hollingworth believed him. If that is what constitutes a church investigation into an allegation of abuse, it is shameful. He argues that it would have breached confidentiality to pass on the information of that complaint to the committee McAuley was serving on. A breach of confidentiality to tell the Synod Sexual Misconduct Complaints Committee about a complaint? Hardly!! Hollingworth argues (with regard to a different case) that the woman abused at 15 years old by a priest in his 30s had initiated the relationship and "in my view this was not sex abuse". For a trained social worker, with further ministerial training in the ethics of a pastoral relationship, such a statement shows appalling ignorance. And in fact, whether he thought it was abuse or not, he should have known it was against the law . He should have known all this, not only because he was in charge of priests who were supposed to abide by these principles, but because he himself is a priest supposed to abide by them. In fact, his implication that the 15 year old girl was the sexual predator - against a man more than twice her age - is so contradictory to social work practices, official church policy, and the law, that we could be pardoned for seeing him as stupid. But someone politically astute enough to climb to the top in a large corporation can't be that stupid. We are left with the option of deliberate intent and lack of sympathy.

He said on Australian Story, about the scandal that has arisen: "the psalms cries out about, "Why am I being punished? Why have people turned into my enemies? What have I done to deserve this?" The cry on the cross - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"... I've got some new spiritual insights into all that now for which I'm very thankful."[2] I can't help feeling glad that he's beginning to discover some of the pain that clergy abuse victims experience for the rest of their lives.

Part 2 - Church and personal accountability

The Hollingworth saga raises some important questions of faith and of procedure. Church officials point to recently established protocols as evidence that while the church may have ignored or covered up abuse in the past, they no longer do so. Yet the experience of victims who approach the church now does not bear out the official story. Too many still tell of delays, obstructionism, reactions at best unsympathetic, at worst deliberately condemnatory. So what is the church doing, or what should it be doing, to more adequately deal with complaints and prevent future abuses?

Before looking at what it should be doing, it is appropriate to look at why the church has failed. The thing that many people don't realise, and indeed are horrified to discover, is that the church is not primarily a moral organisation. It is big business. The Sydney Anglican Diocese, for instance, could continue to operate indefinitely, funded by its investments, even were all weekly offerings to cease tomorrow [3]. Moreover, it is big business that operates in a culture of secrecy, political manipulation and "old boys" networks. In such a culture, sexual abuse becomes something that needs to be kept quiet for the sake of the organisation, and the victim/complainant is seen primarily as a troublemaker.

It is this attitude that governs the way victims are treated. A common pattern is as follows:

  1. The victim approaches a church official, seeking an acknowledgement of what happened, an apology, and perhaps some money for counselling.
  2. The initial church response appears to be sympathetic, but ensuing action is either non-existent or extremely dilatory. It is not unusual for correspondence between victim and church to last for a year or more, even where all that is asked for is a basic acknowledgement.
  3. The church writes to the victim saying they have "investigated" and the case can't be substantiated. Or that the perpetrator is dead (if he is) and no action can be taken.
  4. The victim, in desperation, initiates civil action in an attempt to hold the church to the moral standards they believed it claimed.
  5. Cases are often settled out of court, and where a monetary payment takes place, it is usually accompanied by a confidentiality clause forbidding the victim to speak of the circumstances of their abuse or the details of the settlement.

Hollingworth argued that apologies would be injudicious because of the potential legal implications. As he said: " if you've got three or four court cases that went against you, it'll close the school."[4] Or eventually the diocese, of course. But the reality is, if this were a rare occurrence, an apology (with the resultant legal implications) would be easy. The reason accepting liability by apologising is so frightening for the church is that they know just how widespread the problem is and how financially devastating that would be! And after all, is it so hard for the church to admit they're wrong? Isn't admission of guilt one of the basic tenets they're supposed to be living by?

But they don't. They don't live by biblical principles, they live by business principles. Yet because they are "the church" they are exempt from the same extent of accountability that big business has to face, and their flock hold their superiors in the church in too much awe to see them as needing to be held to account. Yet if even god could look at the world and decide the entire population was irredeemable, why shouldn't we do the same with the church? Indeed there are many dioceses and arms of religious orders around the world facing bankruptcy because clergy sexual abuse was ignored by church officials for too long, and the number of victims grew to mammoth proportions. So where to from here? Given the culture of secrecy in the church, and the apparent ignorance on the whole issue, even among supposedly aware members such as Hollingworth, how do we demand accountability of them?

The shameful reality is that the only two things that will force the church to change are legislation and litigation. Litigation because it hits them, as a business, where it hurts - their hip pocket. And legislation because in spite of the exemptions from which they benefit, they are still bound to bring their practices into line with the law. Legislation should include laws to:

And if we are demanding, or indeed insisting on, accountability, how personally accountable is or should Hollingworth be, as archbishop of the diocese against whom a massive damages amount was awarded in December last year? Does his stance reflect what we expect of an archbishop? Is he unusual in his stance, or is such an attitude endemic in higher church circles? And should past failure affect his right to hold his current position?

Hollingworth behaved unethically, but no more than most (if not all) church leaders do and have - if it were an issue of morality, anyone calling for his resignation should also be calling for the resignation of all other church leaders who have done similar things, which to be totally frank, wouldn't leave very many church leaders.

Should Hollingworth resign? It's important to bear in mind that he would be resigning from the governor-generalship, not the archbishopric. The justification for Hollingworth resigning, therefore, has to take into account the difference between the position he's in now, and the position he was in when the events occurred. It would have to be that these events had caused the people to lose faith in his integrity. For that reason, whether he should resign becomes a issue of public opinion rather than an issue of morality. Given his failure to abide by the standards of his own profession, there is certainly an argument for saying that he is unable to demonstrate the wide grasp of professional and business standards necessary for the governor-general to have.

The alternative would be for him to stay in the job, but to act in such a way as to restore the nation's faith in him. Are we going to demand accountability of the governor-general, and if so, how?

Addendum - Compare these statements and see the inconsistency
>From Australian Story, Monday 18th February:
"I believe she was more than 14. And I also understand that many years later in adult life, their relationship resumed and it was partly a pastoral relationship and it was partly something more. My belief is that this was not sex abuse. There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that. Quite the contrary - my information is that it was rather the other way around."

>From his statement of defence, Wednesday 20th February:
"Retired bishop Shearman had sex with a girl about 15-years-of-age when he was a young curate 50-years-ago. The girl was a resident in a church hostel he supervised. I have never condoned it - even if the girl was a willing participant."

>From statement to press, Thursday morning 21st February:
"I thought I was talking about an adult relationship and I want to make an unreserved apology to the woman concerned and to the whole of the Australian public. That was not what I meant and I realise that that particular little segment has been picked up and used on the media yesterday"

The inconsistency lies in the fact that in both the spoken (pre-recorded) reference to the matter and in his written (carefully prepared) statement, Hollingworth made reference to the girl's age. How can he possibly then argue that he "was talking about an adult relationship"?

[3] Rev. Dr Michael Horsburgh, in The Bulletin, 29th May 2001 and reprinted in

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