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The following article was written by my sister, Jaqi. It was circulated to various media outlets but never published. It is included here as a wide-reaching and detailed account of my abuse and the early part of the resulting fight with the church—up until progress seemed stymied by an uncooperative archbishop—along with the various legal shenanigans which obstructed my path to criminal and civil action. I am indebted to Jaqi for her unwavering support.



A survivor’s battle with sexual abuse, the Anglican diocese of Sydney, and the Australian legal system

updated January 2002





by Jaqi Pascoe

with Clare Pascoe Henderson



In 1980, the Reverend Victor Cole began a three-year sexual relationship with Clare Pascoe, then a 14-year-old member of his congregation. Although Clare thought the Sydney Anglican minister loved her and would eventually divorce his wife, the relationship consisted mainly of her kneeling before his open fly after the Sunday service. In 1985 Clare’s father complained to the Church, and was rebuffed. In 1996, Clare became the only clergy sexual abuse victim to give evidence in person to the Wood Royal Commission, and was interviewed at length on the ABC program Stateline. That year, despite the Commission learning that the minister had discussed the ‘relationship’ with at least seven people including an archbishop, he escaped criminal prosecution on a technicality. In 2000, a Sydney judge threw Clare’s civil suit out of court with no access to appeal and, as the newly-installed Primate Dr Peter Carnley begged his church to show compassion to its own victims, the Sydney diocese sent Clare a bill for $65 000 court costs.


Clare Pascoe Henderson is chronically ill; her house is mortgaged, her marriage breaking up, and the therapist who saved her life looks set to remain unpaid. The Sydney Anglican diocese, on the other hand, proudly boasts that, largely through astute management of colonial land grants, it is so ‘undeniably rich’ that even if its entire congregation stopped going to church the central organisation could continue to function. Since early drafts of this manuscript were circulated, the Church has graciously waived Clare’s debt.



In the public arena the major churches are often heard condemning acts of uninhibited sexuality. They disapprove of openness on the subject, banding together despite their differences to criticise the Mardi Gras, the sex industry, and sex on the large and small screens. In May 2000, a group of conservative Christians in parliament succeeded in quashing the non-violent erotica bill in the face of its majority approval. Conservative Christians claim that lifting the traditional taboos from sexual behaviour will promote immorality. But, as figures published by the Eros Foundation show, according to the courts clergymen are far more likely to be implicated in child sexual abuse crimes than are people in the sex industry - people who are open about sexuality.


The furore over whether Peter Hollingworth is implicated in a cover-up of sexual abuse within the church during his archbishopric has only begun since he stepped from the privileged shadows of the clerical elite into the brighter light of civic accountability as Governor-General. My sister Clare and I grew up in the evangelical Sydney diocese of the Anglican Church, and Clare’s story shows how hard a clergy sexual abuse victim must battle not only the Church but also its power within the legal system to get a conviction, a settlement, compensation, or just an acknowledgment of wrong done - even in the face of conclusive evidence. What happened to her more than suggests that the Eros Foundation’s examination of ten years’ clergy sex offences may well be only the tip of a large and dirty iceberg... one on which I believe we all, in a way, stand shivering.





A survivor’s battle with sexual abuse,  the Anglican diocese of Sydney, and the Australian legal system




In 1980, the Reverend Victor Cole, then 44, began a sexual relationship with 14-year-old Clare Pascoe. This fact can be put into print because it is a matter of public record; the record also notes that the nature of the sexual relationship consisted predominantly of Clare giving the minister oral sex. Cole was the rector of St. David’s, a popular Anglican church on [Sydney’s comfortable/the] North Shore, a former canon of St John’s Cathedral, Parramatta, and president of the Anglican Church League. He is married with four children, two of whom were close friends with Clare.


Clare was the full scholarship winner in her year at Roseville College, a talented choir member and multi-instrumentalist, known as quiet and occasionally moody. She was a devout Christian, a member of the Youth Fellowship at St David’s, preparing for confirmation. The ‘relationship’ continued until Clare - urged by friends to whom she had told her secret - gained enough control to terminate it, six months before she left Sydney for Armidale University.


In 1984, a few months into first-year Uni, Clare began to get sick. In October she collapsed, and was diagnosed with glandular fever. Continuing illness was later to lead doctors to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome. Clare never completed her science degree and now lives on an invalid pension.


In 1985 her father made an official complaint to the Church, specifically to the area bishop. No action was taken; John Pascoe claims the churchmen ridiculed and intimidated him. Ten years later, after publicity over similar cases, Clare herself took the matter to the police.


In 1996, despite police expectations of a straightforward case, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to prosecute, on a technicality later questioned by all Clare’s legal advisers. Later that year, Clare became prominent witness AC2 before the Wood Royal Commission in its investigation into pedophilia, and the Archbishop of Sydney, Harry Goodhew, admitted Cole’s guilt and agreed that the Church’s handling of Clare’s case had been ‘a disgrace’.


During and following the Commission, Clare sent a series of written requests to the Church for acknowledgement and redress. She asked for an apology, the rescinding of Cole’s Holy Orders, and payment of counselling costs. Rev. Dr Michael Corbett-Jones, director of the Anglican Counselling Centre, told the Church that Clare was likely to need twice-weekly counselling for two to three years. The Church’s initial offer was for six sessions.


Cole had made a quiet resignation, originally to take effect six months later, but in the event he left his parish the day after Church leaders gave evidence to the Commission. The Church has steadfastly refused to properly acknowledge the offence, apologise for the harm done, or rescind Cole’s Holy Orders. After around fifty hours of counselling, further support was refused.


Kingsford Legal Centre advised Clare to press a civil suit against both the offender and the Church. Her chances of success were considered high, since a DPP solicitor had told her there was enough evidence to prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Clare’s legal team advised that the case hinged on persuading the judge to lift the long-expired statute of limitations. Surprisingly, there is no law automatically barring a judge who is a communicant member of a church from hearing a case against that church, and in February 2000 a Sydney judge refused to lift the limitation and dismissed Clare’s suit.


On April 3 2000, again on May 24, and again on July 11, the Anglican Church wrote to Clare’s solicitor demanding over $65,000 in court costs. It is estimated that, since the Church employed a QC and four other legal staff and may also have paid for Cole’s defence, the figure is unlikely to cover all its costs, but the amount is roughly equal to half the value of the house Clare and her husband own. At the time, Clare and her husband were in the process of a formal separation; they are now divorced. In September 2001 the Church wrote to Clare advising her it would not pursue the debt.



Love as Servitude


Clare Pascoe was not quite fifteen when the man she hero-worshipped ended a counselling session by grabbing her breast and thrusting his tongue into her mouth. A quiet girl, shy and short-sighted with large, solemn eyes, a quick mind and a reputation for moodiness, she nursed the secret of what she misunderstood as love for a year before she told anyone. She trusted Cole, and believed that in the fullness of time he would divorce his wife and marry her.


She was thirteen when Cole first began to single her out, giving her extra attention and affection, telling her she was his ‘favourite kid in the confirmation class’. At home, her older sister was daddy’s girl, and Clare was trapped in a desperate approval-seeking relationship with her shy, devout, unhappy mother.


Clare and I are close even for sisters: I could never tell this story with perfect journalistic detachment. But the details of her case, including the offender’s admission to his archbishop and the Church’s continuing denial and cover-up, are on record in the transcripts of the Wood Royal Commission and elsewhere. Remember, as you read this saga, that there is no doubt that a sexual relationship actually occurred between the middle-aged minister and the young girl under his spiritual authority. The business at issue is the abusive nature of that relationship, the damage it did, the Church’s failure to acknowledge the offence, and the Australian legal system’s inability to protect, compensate, or even support the victim.


As biographer and journalist and former Anglican David Marr says in The High Price of Heaven (1999): ‘Ours is a very secular country but the churches remain the most resilient, most respected and the best-connected lobby in the nation.’ Marr’s contention is that our society pays a high price - in money, in free speech, in lives - to accommodate the churches’ concerns for our salvation. My own contention is that, at least in the well-connected upper ranks of Anglican Sydney, concerns about salvation take a distant back seat to the maintenance of power for its own sake. So evident has Clare’s experience made this that I couldn’t help but read Marr’s next sentence somewhat differently from the way he meant it: ‘Sin is their business.’



Unquestioning submission


Clare was a babe in arms when her mother first took her to church, and her life for the foreseeable future was to revolve around church events and Christian ideas. For a young girl in an evangelical Anglican parish on Sydney’s North Shore, this meant penitence, obedience, chastity, and an unquestioning submission to spiritual authority. It also meant the weekly services and Youth Fellowship group, Bible study, choir practice, and numerous annual events including organised camps. Whenever the opportunity arose that they could dodge the attentions of Cole’s wife, his four children, and the rest of the congregation, Clare knelt.


In first year university Clare suffered an emotional and physical breakdown, in the aftermath of which her parents learned of the by-then-terminated relationship. Her father sought her consent to a formal complaint to the Church, but Clare refused. Her governing wish then was not to rock the boat for the offender’s wife, children, and congregation. Her father, without telling her, complained anyway; the bishop rebuked and humiliated him. Dad had not realised what he was taking on.





Clare was given to understand that nothing could be done, and nothing was done. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old, married and struggling to raise a child while coming to terms with chronic ill health, that she even began to consider the possibility that she had both moral and legal grounds to pursue a criminal prosecution. Partly by talking about what had happened to her and partly by reading texts like Neil and Thea Ormerod’s When Ministers Sin (Millennium, 1995), she began to learn that severe depression, irrational fear, flashbacks, sleep difficulties and many other of her symptoms were common to victims of traumas similar to her own.


But her understanding of the extent of the damage remained limited until she read her psychiatric assessment prepared for the court by Dr Carolyn Quadrio, a respected expert on the effects of child sexual abuse. Quadrio explained how Clare had been in ‘essentially a hostage situation’, and tabulated a litany of resultant emotional and psychological ailments: ‘...this sort of relationship is one of totalitarian control and results in severe disturbance which over the developmental years translates into permanent personality damage.’


Somehow, though, the criminal case failed to get off the ground, the Director of Public Prosecutions deciding that ‘although [Clare] was obviously exploited by Cole and his actions demonstrated a gross breach of trust, the legislation as it applied at the time does not provide any scope for prosecution.’


According to the DPP, Cole couldn’t be tried for carnal knowledge (rape) because only intromissive sex counts as such; oral sex doesn’t. Oral sex is classified as ‘intercourse’, but at the time of the offence the only crime in this regard was intercourse without consent and he couldn’t be tried for that because she was consenting (apparently in common law a 14-year-old’s consent is valid). The last remaining possible definition of the offence was as an act of indecency and the DPP would not pursue a trial on this count because oral sex is intercourse, and an offence cannot be downgraded in order to get a conviction (Crown vs. Saraswati).


In other words, it appeared Cole had technically committed no crime. As he justified himself sincerely if rather inaccurately when challenged by a Presbyterian minister to whom Clare had confessed: ‘I just want you to know there was no actual penetration.’ Evidently this medieval idea of a virgin as a damageable commodity rather than a particularly vulnerable citizen can still be supported by Australian law: the DPP has refused to revise its decision despite the fact that, as Clare says, ‘not one single legal person that I spoke to at any point along the way since then could see why the DPP made that decision.’



An abusive situation


It might be claimed that the combination of naivety and desire that led Clare to consent to the relationship makes her at least partly culpable, and that her acquiescence takes the heat off the minister, turning him from abusive into merely errant. It’s true that Clare was adolescent and ‘consenting’, though still a minor, and so her experience is not in the same league as that of younger or unwilling victims. But the crux of an abusive situation is often that the abuser creates the victim’s reality: a twisted reality in which things that the abuser insists do not, cannot and must not happen, do happen - at their command. Clare remembers sitting through one of Cole’s fire-and-brimstone sermons on the seventh commandment (against adultery) and wondering how the justification worked. For a long while she truly believed there must be one.


And behind the suggestion that Clare’s naivety left her virtually begging to be abused lies a more sinister fact: the Church manufactures naive teenagers to order. At St David’s, obedience and unworldliness were valued highly - and it is not very different in any evangelical church today. Girls are especially at risk: in conservative belief systems women generally hold relatively low status, leaving them vulnerable to mistreatment.


This fact has a few times enabled the question of Clare’s culpability to be taken to extremes, when the gauche Christian teenager that she was is painted as the real guilty party: a knowing little temptress who seduced a pillar of the community three times her age. Thus, presumably, was Judge Taylor led to give more weight to Cole’s description of what he ‘allowed’ Clare to do than to Clare’s description of the way Cole taught her to do it.



Women in the church


A report drafted for the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and leaked to the press in 1999 stated that clergy sexual abuse is the ‘direct result’ of the unequal treatment of men and women in the church. In the Anglican Church it was the Sydney diocese - notorious for its aggressive conservatism - that in 1992 mounted an unsuccessful court challenge in an attempt to prevent Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth (now Anglican Primate) from ordaining Australia’s first women priests.


At the time, the then Archbishop of Sydney, Donald Robinson, claimed it would be inappropriate to give women an officiating role in the church because they did not have one in the home: the correct domestic position for a woman was subservient to her husband, and any family in which this was not the arrangement was ‘at risk’. He would not put his Church at similar risk: women were spiritually unfit to administer communion. The Diocese’s position on the ordination of women remains unchanged.


But Robinson would appear to be in error about where risk lies. According to a study quoted in Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, conservative religious belief is (after alcohol) the second most common factor among sexually abusive parents. If this is so, then we need urgently to understand that the concept of divine authority vested in real people - be they parents or priests - is dangerous for children.



Peter’s letter to the Pharisees


In April 2000, as Clare’s solicitor was wondering what to do with a $65 000 bill from the Church’s lawyers, the Bulletin published an Easter homily by the Anglican Church’s then recently installed Primate, Dr Peter Carnley. It sent shockwaves through the Sydney Diocese with its progressive interpretation of Scripture, and several local churchmen leapt to public comment. Their remarkably stern censure of their superior - and their rather vociferous defence of dogma - surprised some writers in the secular press.


At the time of Christianity’s traditional festival of humility, the Primate’s homily focused particularly on Christian guilt - on the sins of Christians, and on the victims of Christians. He proclaimed the importance of being sorry, and advocated something like what used to be called caritas - ‘see[ing] value in our very own victims’; he proclaimed, in short, the message of Christ. He even asserted that salvation could come no other way. The diocesan ringleaders stopped short of calling their Primate heretical, but deflected his message by loudly nitpicking his theology.





Two unsuccessful complaints to the Church


The first report to Cole’s superiors was made by Clare’s father - not a Christian but a rather unworldly man. John Pascoe made an appointment to see the area bishop, explained the situation, and simply asked for a quiet internal response: he wanted Cole removed from ministry - or at least watched.


He was told, ‘that would look as if we didn’t trust him.’


There is now dispute over whether the then archbishop, Donald Robinson, was also present at the meeting. John Pascoe claims he was introduced to a man of that name; Bishop Cameron’s statutory declaration for the Wood Royal Commission categorically states that Robinson was not there.


Dad’s statement to police says the two men’s attitudes hardened perceptibly when he mentioned that Clare was in no state to take the witness stand. He describes how they humiliated him, threatened him with prosecution for slander, and showed him the door.


Cameron’s statement says the notes of the meeting were kept as part of his personal files and destroyed when he retired. The Church does not keep a history of complaints against particular ministers, so when it claims to have the problem under control, this is presumably the procedure to which it refers.


Making a complaint to the Church

For the full text of the original Anglican Church (Diocese of Sydney) protocol for dealing with sexual misconduct go to Clare’s website, A slightly shorter, amended version is available in some church vestries.


Many Christians with complaints against church workers prefer to attempt resolution of the problem within church structures. Conservative church teaching discourages believers from subjecting themselves to secular authority, and Australian law makes considerable provision for the churches to settle internal disputes without state interference. In Sydney, if you complain to the Anglican Church about sexual abuse by a church worker, this is what happens:


·      First, you speak to a ‘contact person’, who sends your complaint directly to the archbishop. Your complaint must contain specific information, just as a statement to police would do. The original text of the protocol warns that a copy of your allegations will be sent to the alleged abuser; if you do not consent to this, or if you begin legal proceedings, the Church may cease to deal further with your complaint.

·      The archbishop will acknowledge receipt of your complaint, and assess it. Any questions you have during the process should be directed to the contact person, not the archbishop.

·      The archbishop may appoint an independent investigator, but doesn’t have to. He may then appoint a lawyer, but doesn’t have to. He may choose not to take advice, not to talk to or correspond with complainants, and to dismiss the complaint. Both the archbishop and the lawyer he may call are exempted by law from having to report the discovery of any crime to the police.

·      If the lawyer finds sufficient evidence of sexual abuse the archbishop may call a tribunal to deal with the matter. Clergy sexual abuse tribunals, however, cannot be held over events that occurred more than 12 months before complaint - even if they involved a minor. A motion to extend this rather barbaric statute of limitations was first moved in 1996 after pressure from the Wood Royal Commission; it has been deferred by successive Synods ever since.

·      In the unlikely event that a tribunal is held and the minister found guilty, the three to five men of the tribunal may recommend responses ranging from admonition to revocation of the offender’s holy orders. The protocol does not define any relationship between severity of offence and severity of response.

·      In all cases the archbishop has the power to suspend the tribunal’s sentence, and if the suspension remains in force for two years the sentence lapses.

·      The procedure is slightly different if the accused is a bishop. There is apparently no internal procedure at all for dealing with complaints against an archbishop.

·      The protocol makes provision for the possibility of an apology from the offender, but if you want an apology from the Church - forget it.



During the Wood Royal Commission, the then archbishop Harry Goodhew admitted to Counsel Assisting the Commissioner Paddy Bergin that the Church’s handling of Clare’s case had been ‘a disgrace’. Explicitly on the basis of that admission, Clare wrote to Goodhew asking for an apology. Goodhew responded coldly that ‘on [the Church’s] version of the facts no personal apology would be called for.’


Yet even the Church’s version of the facts could not completely whitewash the story. According to Goodhew in submissions to the Commission, Cole claimed sexual activity only happened ‘once or a few times’ and asked about the possibility of later reinstatement to active ministry. The archbishop’s answer indicated that reinstatement would depend on whether criminal charges were pressed. Whether or not the relationship had indeed been abusive was apparently not relevant.


In the event, criminal charges were not pressed because of the DPP’s decision. Several years and an epic farce later, Clare’s legal options are to all appearances exhausted. Little now stands in the way of the quiet reinstatement of the vicar who in 1995 admitted to police that he remembered Clare quite well, but insisted that he could not recall whether he had ever put his penis in her mouth.



Civil case


When the criminal case failed Clare’s lawyers recommended she sue for damages in the civil courts. On advice from the Kingsford Legal Centre, she sued the offender, the area bishop to whom the first report was made, the diocesan archbishop at the time of the abuse, the then present archbishop for his repeated refusal to deal with the matter unresolved by his predecessor, and the Church Trust (Sydney Diocese), on whose property the offences were committed.


Kingsford Legal Centre first sought a barrister’s advice on the case and gained a positive prognosis. They then filed a victim’s compensation claim in advance of tightening legislation, and passed the case to a crusading lawyer. Peter Karp was a solicitor with the high-profile city law firm McCabe Lawyers, where he ran regular office prayer meetings. Karp was prepared to take the case on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, and even before the preliminary hearings began, lawyers for the Church offered to talk out-of-court settlement. But when, shortly afterward, Karp dropped all his cases to go into the ministry, McCabe’s began to mishandle the case (see box). The Church, evidently not motivated by compassion, lost interest in settlement.


For the civil case to proceed, the first necessity was to gain permission to lift the long-expired statute of limitations. In order to do this, Clare had to establish that she was unaware of the nature or extent of her injury until less than three years before she lodged the claim in 1998. Psychiatric reports, stat decs and the necessary documentation were provided to the court; her legal team - now including a distinguished QC also working for ‘no win, no fee’ - seemed cautiously confident. The preliminary hearings were conducted; the judge retired to consider; Clare waited. Seven months later her solicitor received a letter from the Church demanding costs - quoting a judgment handed down several weeks earlier. Somehow notification of the impending judgment had failed to reach the plaintiff’s legal team.


Legal liability


·      When Peter Karp, the solicitor who ran prayer meetings for his colleagues at McCabe’s, left the practice around Easter 1998, McCabe’s put all his cases under review. In August Clare was informed that they would not take her case to court but would, if the defendants were willing, negotiate an out-of-court settlement for her. This meant Clare might be forced into a settlement on terms she would not voluntarily have accepted, but since her no-win-no-fee contract was with McCabe’s rather than with Karp himself, she couldn’t take her business elsewhere without incurring a bill for all services provided thus far. Nevertheless she began looking for other legal representation in case the Church refused to settle.

·      Karp had submitted a notice of motion to extend the statute of limitations as part of Clare’s initial statement of claim. This detail escaped both Cole’s and the Church’s solicitors, who sent numerous letters over several months, requesting the important document. McCabe’s failed to answer any of them.

·      Unsuccessful in its requests, the Church submitted a notice of motion to strike out Clare’s claim (as invalid), resulting in an extra hearing and a six month delay to the case.

·      Chris Wood was now the partner nominally in charge of Clare’s case, but most of the work was done by the lawyer who had been assisting Karp, Christine McKenzie. When McKenzie submitted the supporting documentation for Clare’s victim’s compensation claim, she somehow omitted to include Clare’s psychiatric report. The claim was rejected on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of the damage done.

·      On 2 June 1998 the Church’s lawyers requested extra information which Clare, at that time suicidal, was too sick to provide. McCabe’s gave the Church no explanation for the delay, even after repeated reminder letters and a ‘review of status’ hearing at which Clare (represented by her lawyers) was directed to produce the requested particulars within 28 days. McCabe’s failed to tell Clare this time limit had been imposed - one of several times information necessary to fulfill her obligations or make an informed decision wasn’t given to her.

·      On 21 September the Church’s lawyers wrote indicating that their client was interested in an informal settlement meeting. McCabe’s sent Clare a copy of the letter but failed to arrange a meeting.

·      On 29 September McCabe’s lodged an amended statement of claim, containing relatively trivial alterations. When lawyers presented this document for Clare’s signature, they failed to tell her that its submission would effectively preclude further, possibly more important, amendments.

·      On 11 November McCabe’s failed to attend the second ‘review of status’ hearing.

·      On Christmas Eve McCabe’s wrote to Clare informing her that the Church would not settle and that her business with the firm was therefore at an end.

·      On 13 January 1999 the Church filed notice for summary dismissal of the case, on the grounds that the plaintiff’s claim wasn’t being properly handled. At this point Clare’s new legal team began painstakingly to make order from chaos.

·      In February 2000 after the preliminary hearings, the court sent notice of an impending judgment to McCabe’s, although they no longer had any involvement with the case. McCabe’s did not pass the information on to Clare’s solicitor. As late as April Clare and her solicitor were still awaiting a judgment. The appeal deadline had passed.



Taylor’s judgment


Virtually the only thing Judge Taylor admitted was that there had indeed been a sexual relationship between the plaintiff and the first defendant. He questioned Clare’s minority despite supporting affidavits, and (rather surprisingly) used language that cast Clare as the active party in the liaison.


The judge was clear, though, that if the relationship did indeed constitute an assault it would naturally fall outside the course of Cole’s duties, and therefore neither his superiors nor the Church could be held liable. As to whether the offender himself could be tried, Taylor noted Cole’s lies and prevarication but still accepted his only possible defence: the difficulty of finding alibis for individual dates by which to clear himself of suspicion over Clare’s precise age when it all happened.


He went on to doubt, disbelieve or dismiss each of Clare’s remaining claims, seizing on an unclear point in Dr Quadrio’s assessment to decide Clare must long have known of the connection between her personal injury and ‘Mr Cole’s conduct’ - although elsewhere in the report Quadrio makes clear that at the time of her assessment Clare still didn’t realise how intrinsic was the connection. But that was the only use Taylor made of Quadrio’s report.


And as for when it was that Clare had begun to understand ‘the nature and extent of the personal injury’ - when it came to the ordeal of close questioning in court, Judge Taylor simply claimed not to believe Clare’s sworn testimony. And, even though her actions and all the evidence are absolutely consistent, there is no appeal against that.


In other words: if Clare was sixteen, the court considers she entered into this ‘hostage situation’ at the feet of her middle-aged church minister by her own informed volition. If she was under sixteen she was assaulted, but since it would be difficult for the priest to refute her claims on this point he cannot be tried. Therefore, nobody but she can be held to account for the terrible effects of Cole’s use of her - especially not the Church, since even if Cole’s behaviour was abusive and his superiors protected and covered for him, and even though the events occurred during counselling sessions and other religious activities on church grounds, and even though other churches are liable in similar situations, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney is not. End of story.


Some lawyers have pointed to possible errors in Taylor’s judgment; others have said he applied the letter of the law in a strict and watertight fashion. Either way, it was one of those times when the justice system seems to fall short of its aim, and to settle instead for reinforcing current power structures. The ancient and once-absolute power of the churches still hobbles Australian law with many of its old prejudices, and in circumstances where conservative morality is challenged and powerful men have much to lose, women can still expect to take the rap for male sexuality - not to mention for their own.


Before the hearings there was general agreement that if the statute of limitations was lifted it would be a more or less open-and-shut case against the offender, and the real battle would be over the Church’s liability. The hearings as far as they went were merely about the notice of motion to lift the statute, normally a minor event, but when the sessions began it was clear the Church had taken up the offensive. Ranged against Clare were a priest, a bishop, two archbishops, assorted solicitors and barristers and two QCs - and the case remains unappellable because of the judge’s decision to disbelieve Clare’s testimony.



The Church’s position at law - the ‘non-employer precedent’


As Clare went through the whole process, she was to meet the ragged army of fellow sufferers around her. She began to learn how hard the Church would fight her, how far-reaching is its power, and how much it has to lose from even the smallest concession.


The Anglican Church of Canada is considering what amounts to a declaration of bankruptcy over clergy abuse compensation pay-outs. But even small purges are unlikely in Australia for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it appears that, as happened in Clare’s case, a civil suit against a church may be heard by a judge who is a registered communicant member of that church. While a believer’s relationship to spiritual authority is supposed to be a matter of individual conscience, it’s in the nature of evangelical churches (and their members) to claim and believe in their own fundamentally exclusive grasp on truth and the moral high ground. But then, even when ministers have been convicted, the ‘non-employer precedent’ has protected the Anglican Church from compensation claims.


Protestant churches in Australia have so far escaped all compensatory responsibility in law for their ministers’ criminal or improper actions by the legal fiction that the Church is not the minister’s employer. According to the Church and the court, the parish is the priest’s employer - though it is rare for a parish to call their priest to account. Certainly there is no question in church ideology as to where real authority lies: it is not the sheep who employ the shepherd - or his dog.


The non-employer precedent is not the only legal fiction at play, however. According to law, fiduciary duty - an obligation to behave in a trustworthy manner - is not owed by a priest to a parishioner. The concept as interpreted by the courts is dependent on a financial relationship, and (even though the parish is the priest’s employer) the individual parishioner is not paying for his services - so the trustworthiness of priests is not underwritten in law.


If this situation seems dangerous, it is an indication of the power the Church holds in the community - as well as in the courtroom.



Victims’ compensation appeal


Clare’s victims’ compensation claim had been refused in 1999 due to the extraordinary negligence of her lawyers, but with McCabe’s the notable exception her various legal advisers have been sympathetic. When the appeal date arrived, lawyers at the Victims’ Compensation Tribunal had to explain that her victims’ comp appeal had no chance even with the damning psychiatric report omitted by McCabe’s, since assessment would now be based on the decision made in the civil case.


Taylor’s judgment, as it turned out, had not only dismissed Clare’s civil damages claim and precluded an appeal, but also eliminated her chances of victim’s compensation - badly needed money to pay her medical and counselling expenses and (I had hoped) perhaps ease the payments on her house. A modest Central Coast cottage provides psychological sanctuary for this talented, ambitious, private-school scholarship girl who is now too ill to keep a job.


‘So why,’ Clare asked a barrister at Victims’ Comp, ‘didn’t my civil case get up when others from even longer ago do?’ The gist of the answer was that the Church called on all its very considerable resources to ensure that it didn’t: they simply couldn’t afford to risk Clare’s case breaking the non-employer precedent. Now, unfortunately, having demanded costs amounting to Clare’s share in the cottage, it almost looks as if the Church is seeking to punish her for the attempt.



Clergy abuse activist


As a result of her experiences Clare has found herself working for and with numerous people in similar situations. She runs a clergy sexual abuse website, talks to support groups, gives papers and workshops at conferences, and is a co-convenor of the SNAP list, an international Internet support group for victims of clergy abuse. has a varying membership of about sixty and only tenuous links to its host organisation in the US, whose member list is more like 2,500. SNAP is predominantly about support, while its sibling organisation, the Link-Up - - focuses on advocacy. Type “clergy sexual abuse” into a search engine and you’ll see how the Internet has become a valuable resource for abuse survivors.


It’s Clare’s responsibility as a list convener to follow all the list’s various conversations. On a quiet day this might mean reading two or three emails. But if a Church is in the news for pretty much anything the rate goes up - and when, for example, the Pope apologises for the Catholic Church’s sins without mentioning sexual abuse, Clare’s inbox can hold 30-50 firecrackers.


But as the list members’ first line of defence all sorts of nastiness comes her way. ‘We had a kook last week,’ she grins - and then shudders. One of her most important jobs in ordering this highly volatile group is to ensure that no abusers get onto the list by masquerading as victims - in fact, no priests at all, unless they are also victims of abuse. In the two years Clare has been on the list there have been three of those. The hold that religion takes on the mind is hard to break.


It is said amongst these groups of clergy sexual abuse victims (some call themselves ‘survivors’, some cannot yet) that the churches isolate complainants. They tell them, for example, that there have been no other complaints against the alleged abuser when in fact not only have there been other complaints but the priests in question have been transferred in response to earlier complaints. Procedures like this not only minimise the likelihood that victims will find strength in unity - they also turn pastors with a problem into habitual pedophiles.


Power like this - spiritual, social, legal, moral, and financial - vested with the established churches may contribute to why the habit of faith is indeed hard to break. Despite the enormity of their own and each other’s experiences, many of the SNAP list members still define themselves as Christian. Clare is not yet quite comfortable with the idea of being ‘a non-Christian’, though her faith is in disarray and will eventually restructure itself outside traditional definitions. She has difficulty walking into a church building, but ‘between running the SNAP list and being on the Uniting Church chat list and a feminist spirituality message board, I reckon I get my share of ‘Church’,’ she says.


Clare respects the Uniting Church’s concerted efforts at accountability on a range of social justice matters, including clergy sexual abuse, pointing out that their protocol for dealing with the issue was forty pages long, compared to the Anglican Church’s four (see box above). Yet she did not desert the Anglican denomination so much as feel herself excluded. Still devoted to the principles of Christ, she feels no connection to any god that could be represented by an organisation as culpable, as prejudiced, as hypocritical, and as ruthless as the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.


The Geoffrey A. Taylor case


The Eros Foundation recently published the names of some 450 church workers whose sex offences against children have been acknowledged by the courts since 1990. The story below - of an habitual offender who has never been taken to court - shows another side to the troubling issue.


Allegations of sexual impropriety or criminality occurred in most of Geoffrey A. Taylor’s parishes throughout his thirty-two year career as an Anglican minister. After two scandals during his first major appointment - as Youth Director of the Sydney Diocese - the Church’s initial response was to move him from place to place, but eventually Taylor’s licence was revoked.


But revoking a priest’s licence doesn’t stop him from practising his ‘ministry’; it simply means he can no longer work for that diocese. Since Taylor had no police record he was able to gain a place as chaplain in a large country high school.


In 1992, former members of one of his parishes collected and documented numerous allegations (over 20 in one parish), tracked Taylor down, and persuaded him to sign two documents: a confession, and a promise never to work with ‘any group of women or girls’ again. Their evidence was presented to the school principal who, overruling objection from her male deputy, removed Taylor from his position.


Around October 1992, the diocesan newsletter Southern Cross published, for the third time, a smiling photograph of Taylor with Archbishop Robinson by his side at a reunion of Sydney youth department directors. The trauma this caused his victims prompted renewed requests for proper acknowledgment and disclosure, and the December meeting of the Standing Committee discussed the Church’s possible courses of action. Inside sources claim that during the meeting a highly-ranked member of the committee protested that ‘these women fantasise.’ He had, at the time, a copy of the offender’s signed confession before him.


In January 1993 with legal issues threatening, the archbishop asked Taylor to hand in his holy orders, effectively defrocking him. It was the first - and remains the only - known occasion the diocese has made this response to priestly misconduct. The Church, under pressure to make a public statement, ensured that the next edition of Southern Cross carried a tiny announcement.



Please note: Geoffrey A. Taylor is not to be confused with the Reverend Geoffrey C. Taylor, another Sydney Anglican minister, against whom there are not and have not been any such allegations.



Faith can move mountains: ‘never underestimate the power of denial’


The beauty and the terror of faith is that it enables you to live with the most dreadful violations of order. A whole congregation can be whispering about the goings-on between the reverend Mr So-and-so and young Alice - or the girls generally - but everyone will more or less ignore it. Most will frown quietly on the vicar as a bad apple who nevertheless wears a holy mantle. Many will blame the girl. Others will categorically refuse to believe it’s true. Relatively few seem to understand the damage done and even fewer to grasp the synergy between power and corruption.


Many will condemn the girl not only for the illicit relationship but for disrupting group unity with the airing of it. As Clare puts it, ‘you not only get blamed for the abuse, you get blamed for coming forward as well.’ Bearing witness - a profoundly valued act in an evangelical church - turns out to be less to do with asserting the truth than with bolstering the status quo.



Faith can move mountains. Unfortunately, it also seems capable of fording the river of reality without getting its feet wet. I myself maintained faith throughout Clare’s St Davids experience, little as we then understood its effects, only eventually leaving the Church in an existential crisis of my own. Later I understood how the Church’s own laws and its place in the world have made its corruption inevitable - indeed have fostered and protected men of strong character and bad behaviour.


‘They dig their own grave; that’s what I just don’t understand,’ I hear Clare fret again. Her words are those of someone focused not on revenge, as some of her detractors assumed, but on absolution - for herself from the faith she still wrestles with, and for the Church that repeatedly breaks its promise never to fail her. Her frustration centres round the fact that she is years into a battle to have a simple truth properly acknowledged, a battle that has cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars, when all she originally sought was basic damage control. All most victims originally ask for is an apology. It is churches’ steadfast resistance to giving even that degree of acknowledgment to their victims’ search for validation that drives complainants on to court and sometimes, eventually, to going public.



Clare and I


I’ve been asked many times if I ever doubted my sister’s story. I always answer the same way: Not since, age 19 and shaking like a leaf, I went to tell Cole that I was concerned about his relationship with my sister. He said he, also, was very concerned about young Clare. I said, ‘I know what is happening and I want it to stop.’ He said, ‘it has stopped.’ He knew how to handle me.


The Gospels tell of how, as Jesus was taken away to trial, he answered an avowal of  Peter’s by accusing him, ‘before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’ The Church has three times betrayed Clare and numerous others of its members - those to whom it owes its life: in the initial abuse, in the Church’s failure to make redress, and in its concerted attempts to silence the complainants. The cock is now crowing: will the Church ever arrive at the recognition and repentance that were instant for Peter? The signs are not promising. For those churchgoers who remain devoted to the faith and the community of the faithful, the SNAP list has a brief, sincere message: for the sake of your children, let your faith not be blind.


One of Christianity’s most holy images is that of the dove, a gentle bird but a fine flier, symbol of the Spirit. But when it comes to the abuse of power, churches are more like hawks, predatory by nature. Clare’s and my story has an ancient, churchless parallel in myth which features a hawk. Tereus, a Thracian king, married Procne, had two sons by her, then took it into his head to rape her younger sister, Philomela. As a way of ensuring she would not tell on him, he cut out her tongue. She wove a tapestry illustrating the event to show her sister, and Procne killed her sons and served them to Tereus and his men at a banquet. The gods turned Tereus into a hawk, Procne into a swallow, and Philomela into a nightingale.


Of course, I am no Procne: my commitment to the Church was brief and without issue. But occasionally I think of Clare as the nightingale Philomela: all she has left is her ability to sing. And sing she will.





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