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Sexual abuse scandal in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney

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The sexual abuse scandal in the Anglican diocese of Sydney has affected the Anglican community of Sydney.

Brief historical overviewEdit

The Anglican Diocese of Sydney holds firmly to the Thirty-Nine Articles, of which Article XXVI says: "Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally being found guilty, by just judgement be deposed." However, the ordinances which applied to clergy sexual abuse for nearly the whole of the 20th Century (1904–1996) proved as much of an obstacle to deposition of offending ministers as a help.

Prior to 1996, clergy sexual abuse was dealt with under the Tribunal Ordinance 1962, which superseded the 1904 Tribunal Ordinance subsequent to the Australian Church of England achieving autonomy from its parent body in England. Under those ordinances, which dealt with all manner of misconduct by clergy, from swearing to sexual abuse, a complaint could only be taken to the tribunal if a) it was signed by five communicant members of the parish in which the offence occurred, or b) it was directly brought by the archbishop.[1] In respect to clergy sexual abuse, that obviously left an enormous amount of power in the hands of the archbishop to decide whether to pursue complaints or not, since it would be extremely unusual to have five communicant parish members willing to bring such a complaint. Furthermore, any complaint had to be lodged within twelve months of the date of the offence. This provision ensured that almost no child sexual abuse complaints would be lodged with the Tribunal, given the length of time which usually occurs between an offence and the victim becoming sufficiently aware of his/her rights to pursue a charge.

However, from the mid-1980s the issue of clergy sexual abuse became more openly talked about. A series of Catholic court cases reported in the media in 1992 and the formation of a victim support organisation, Broken Rites,[2] which urged victims not to negotiate confidentially with the church, brought into the public arena some indication of how prevalent clergy sexual abuse was. In 1993 the Anglican Diocese of Sydney established a Committee, and then a Working Party, to develop a protocol for dealing with complaints of clergy sexual abuse. (Each diocese in the Anglican Communion is autonomous, and may make its own internal rules and ordinances. Recommendations can be made by the national body but must be affirmed by individual dioceses before they have standing in the diocese.) The first draft protocol was presented to Standing Committee in 1994, but was rejected, in part because it was "too victim-oriented".[3] A later draft, so amended and truncated as to be considered a new document rather than a revision, was not implemented until after members of the diocesan hierarchy gave evidence in public hearings of the Royal Commission in 1996 (see below). In October of that year, the Church Discipline Ordinance 1996 (which covered non-ordained church workers in addition to clergy, and also provided a means to proceed to a Tribunal charge through the complaint of one complainant) was implemented concurrently with the Tribunal Ordinance 1962 Amendment Ordinance 1996 (which removed the 12-month statute of limitations).

Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police ServiceEdit

One minister, a member of the Standing Committee and a former president of the Anglican Church League, was named in the Paedophile Enquiry of the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service in 1996. He confessed the relationship to the then archbishop but minimised the extent of the abuse. In the same year he resigned his incumbency at the request of Archbishop Harry Goodhew and retired from the ministry, ending his employment with the church. In 2003 he was asked by Archbishop Peter Jensen to relinquish his holy orders - preventing him from officiating as a priest - and his letter of relinquishment of orders admitted to the misconduct.[4]

However, the fact that the victim's father had complained to the church as early as 1985, with no action taken, led Ms Paddy Bergin, Counsel Assisting the Commissioner, to insist that Archbishop Goodhew admit that the church's handling of the complaint had been "a disgrace",[5] and that it was completely unacceptable for the minister concerned to have continued in ministry without any investigation having been conducted.[6]

As a result of this and other Sydney Anglican cases before the Royal Commission, the diocese hastened the implementation of their protocol for dealing with complaints of sexual abuse by clergy. However, there was still no provision for defrocking of ministers on a substantiated complaint of sexual abuse without recourse to a full church tribunal until 2003, and no alternative to compensation through the civil courts until a similar time (with the introduction of the Pastoral Care and Assistance Scheme as detailed below).

In part, Commissioner Justice Wood's final summary said: "Allegations of abuse of this kind had been dealt with in-house...by disbelief, denial, or exhortation to forget the incident...The harm done to victims has been a product of the climate of denial and cover up." He further added: "the developments so far have been directed more towards the management of complaints, than towards rehabilitation and assistance of the victim".[7]

Subsequent to the Royal Commission hearings described above, the diocese's refusal to negotiate with the complainant resulted in a civil case for compensation. In 2000 Judge Taylor of the District Court of New South Wales determined that "the relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff involved some sexual activity between them" and that it was consensual. The plaintiff's case failed principally because the question of whether there was sexual activity when she was under age was difficult to prove - and also difficult to defend - because of the lapse of time. The judge also held that there was no case at all for vicarious liability to be found against the diocese or its various office holders.[8] This decision hinged on the fact that in the Anglican Church it is the parish, not the diocese, who employs the minister and the court did not acknowledge the spiritual supervision of a bishop over his clergy as relevant in assessing vicarious liability, despite the spiritual nature of the power imbalance involved.

As a result of the pattern of action by the diocese in response to her complaint, which is more fully described in her story as detailed on her website,[9] and her subsequent experiences in dealing with many other victims of clergy sexual abuse both in the Anglican Church and other denominations and religions, the plaintiff concluded that "the church's stand is about political power and protection of the system and its own members, rather than healing the broken and providing solace for the hurting."[4]

2004 code of conductEdit

In response to the growing national and international coverage of sexual abuse within various Christian denominations, a new [10] code of conduct was adopted in 2004 to ensure that all persons who hold ministry positions within the church (formal and informal, paid and unpaid) are given strict guidelines on ethical behaviour. Included in the code is the expectation that clergy and church workers adhere to "faithfulness in marriage and chastity in singleness". However, this is merely a reiteration of the standards already long taught and expected within the diocese, and fails to address the more serious underlying questions of power imbalances in a strictly hierarchical structure and whether the structure itself is a predisposing factor to abuses of women and children (very few adult males are abused in a patriarchal structure).[original research?]

Safe Ministry BoardEdit

In addition to adopting the Code of Conduct "Faithfulness in Service", the Diocese of Sydney has established a Safe Ministry Board and passed other measures to ensure the safety of children and other vulnerable people. There are now detailed screening procedures and compulsory training for all ordination candidates and members of the clergy, as mandated by State law.

A safe ministry representative has been appointed in each of its 270 parishes to keep records and monitor and report on local practices and procedures. Training in safe ministry and child protection every three years has been made mandatory for all people who work with children, whether paid or unpaid.

Redefined process of dealing with allegationsEdit

The process for receiving and dealing with allegations and complaints of child abuse and sexual misconduct has been refined and improved. Independent contact persons are available to discuss concerns. The contact persons also assist in preparing a formal complaint if required. The Professional Standards Unit[11] administers the process. A Care and Assistance Scheme seeks to respond to victims of clergy/churchworker abuse by providing counselling and other support in a non-litigious manner. Archbishop Peter Jensen has taken a personal interest in the matter and has, since his appointment in 2001, met with, listened to and offered an apology to victims of clergy and churchworker abuse.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Tribunal Ordinance 1962
  2. http://brokenrites.alphalink.com.au/
  3. Report of the Royal Commission into the NSW Police Force: Paedophile Enquiry; Vol V, p.1016
  4. 4.0 4.1 My Story, clergyabuseaustralia.org, accessed 2009-09-27
  5. Royal Commission transcript, 8th May 1996
  6. Report of the Royal Commission, Vol V, p.1005
  7. Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service, Final Report, Vol V, pp.995,1031
  8. Henderson v Cole & Ors DCNSW 1199 of 1998 - 25/2/2000
  9. http://www.clergyabuseaustralia.org/mystory.htm
  10. Sydney takes the lead to protect children from abuse, Madeleine Collins, SydneyAnglicans.net, 2004-10-28, accessed 2009-09-27
  11. Professional Standards Unit