The resignation of Australia’s governor-general is hopefully a major step towards ending years of acquiescence to child abuse by clergymen and other figures in authority, says Chris Goddard.
On 25 May this year, the governor-general of Australia resigned. His mishandling of child sexual abuse cases proved too much. Appointed in June 2001, for the previous 11 years Peter Hollingworth was Anglican archbishop of Brisbane. Some claimed that his appointment as governor-general blurred the important church-state divide. It was in the church that his problems began.
The pressure started in late 2001, when a jury awarded record damages against the Anglican diocese of Brisbane. A 12-year- old girl had been sexually abused for many months at an Anglican school in 1990. The jury found the diocese responsible and granted punitive damages.
Hollingworth as governor-general was patron of a children’s charity that I helped found. As a result of the court case, I resigned from the charity and published my reasons in an opinion piece “Do nothing, and the evil of abuse triumphs” in The Age, Melbourne’s newspaper. There were soon other allegations that he discouraged victims from taking action. Ultimately, however, his own words condemned him.
On ABC TV’s Australian Story, he accused a then 14-year-old of leading a priest on. In a statement released on the day of my article, he stated that he did not condone a bishop’s sex with a young girl, “regardless of whether or not the girl was a willing participant”.
His successor as archbishop announced an inquiry into abuse in the church. More allegations appeared. On 1 May 2003, the church released its report, suggesting that Hollingworth’s recollections of some events were “faulty”. It also found that he had allowed a self-confessed child molester to continue to practise as a priest. The man was later sentenced for many counts of sodomy. In the report, Hollingworth was again condemned in his own words, with letters quoted showing that he appeared to have been more concerned about the church than children.
More indignity followed as Hollingworth clung to his job. A poll found that three-quarters of Australians thought he should quit. I wrote a widely-quoted piece suggesting that he stay, as he represented Australia’s failure to take action on child abuse. On 8 May, details of a rape allegation against him were made public. He emphatically denied the claim that he raped the woman at a youth camp almost 40 years ago. She instituted legal proceedings in February 2003, but reportedly committed suicide in April.
On 11 May, Hollingworth stood aside as Queen’s representative while the rape claim was dealt with. The woman’s family withdrew the civil rape case on 23 May. The day after it was claimed that he had sent the family of another child abuse victim a letter in which he stated that the girl had “started” a relationship with the perpetrator. The next day, Hollingworth resigned.
Chris Goddard is director of the child abuse and family violence research unit at Monash University, Australia. E-mail: email@example.com
The office of governor-general was established by the constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. The position is Her Majesty’s representative in the commonwealth, and is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister.
The web-site www.gg.gov.au states that there are “many important duties to perform”. These include dissolving parliament, giving assent to laws, and appointing judges. The governor-general is also commander-in-chief of the Australian defence force. “Possibly the most important role… is to encourage, articulate and represent those things that unite Australia”.
The prime minister has just appointed major general Michael Jeffery as the new governor generaeneral