Skip to main content

Peter Hollingworth Criticised over Handling of Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Peter Hollingworth is facing criticism for his handling of sexual abuse cases during his 11-year tenure as archbishop of Brisbane. After this role had concluded, Hollingworth moved into a more authoritarian position as Australia’s 23rd Governor General.

Survivors of historic sexual abuse are criticising the former archbishop for the secrecy surrounding any child sex abuse proceedings and have argued that the continued authority that Hollingworth holds “serves to re-enforce the profound harm” that has been enacted upon survivors.

Kooyoora, an independent body that claim to “handle complaints, screening, training and provide redress management,” completed the hearing on Thursday 9th February, after more than five years of complaints were made.

The individuals who had made the complaints were furious after the hearing was made private, and basic details of the hearing were kept hidden.

Beth Heinrich, one complainant, made an intervention attempting to make the hearing open to the public, citing that an open hearing “grounded the democratic ideals of transparency and accountability underpinning our justice system.”

“The very nature of institutional sexual offending against children has always been shrouded in secrecy…The concerns our client expressed…only serves to re-enforce the profound harm suffered by victims of such childhood trauma.”

“Opening up this hearing to the public would be instrumental in furthering and consolidating this very important component of the work of the royal commission and is consistent with the purpose of this body as well as of this hearing,” she continued to state.

Abuse Complaints & Responses

Hollingworth is looking at being defrocked over his handling of child sexual abuse allegations during his time as archbishop of Brisbane.

By definition, defrocking is “to deprive of the right to exercise the functions of office or religiously, to remove from a position of honour or privilege”

One complaint comes from Joy Conolly, a psychologist who worked with victims of Kevin Guy, a paedophile housemaster of Toowoomba Preparatory School during the 1990s. The handling of those cases was retold in the 2017 film, Don’t Tell.

The film is an Australian drama which is paralleled with ‘Spotlight’ a film based on the Boston systematic child sex abuse by a religious institution. 

In an interview with the Guardian, the psychologist stated, “It’s been put off so many times. And I’ve written so many reports, and they’re all exactly the same, and nothing has changed. These girls … haven’t gone on to lead good lives, not at all. And it’s heartbreaking.”

Connolly went on to say, “I’ve lost faith in it. It doesn’t do the Anglican church any good, and all churches are in trouble these days.”

What abuse has Hollingworth Been accused of?

In 1993, the Royal Abuse Royal Commission found that Peter Hollingworth failed to act correctly when he kept on John Linton, a Lay Preacher, despite his admitting that he had attacked two boys.

A psychologist had told Hollingworth that Linton “was a paedophile” and he was “untreatable”.

But rather than immediately being dismissed and reported, the alleged paedophile who had admitted his abuse remained part of the school. He retired five years later.

The Royal Commission stated it was a “serious error of judgement”.

The ABC had reported that his immediate comment to Ms Heinrich was that, “There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that; quite the contrary.”

As a result of these comments, Hollingworth was forced to resign as Governer General in 2003 after public backlash.

Whilst Hollingworth is not accused of any child sexual abuse related to himself, he is continuing to face widespread criticism regarding his handling of complaints whilst he was in a position of authority and could have acted.

Whilst he apologised in 2016 for his handling of the case, many public members see his apology as ‘futile’, especially if he is not defrocked and allowed to keep his pension.

The Church Apologises

The Diocese of Bathurst apologised half a decade after the initial incident:

“On behalf of the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst, I, Richard Hurford, Bishop of Bathurst unreservedly apologise for the unethical behaviour of Donald Shearman in his capacity as warden of St John’s Hostel, Forbes, during the years 1954, `55 and `56,”

“I refer particularly to the actions of Rev Shearman in relation to the initiation and continuation of sexual abuse and moral corruption of a minor, a school girl in his official care.”

Heinrich is content with an apology from the church, however, she feels as if she deserves an apology from Dr Hollingworth as he ignored her requests for help during 1995 and 2000.

“I’ve waited 50 years for this apology. It’s very extensive and it shows Shearman up for what he was. He was a criminal, but he’s never been charged,” Ms Heinrich said.

However, because Dr Hollingworth had ignored Heinrich’s requests to look into the matter, she landed a $18,000 bill from Slater and Gordon, a law firm who had represented Heinrich when she asked for compensation from the church.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to one of our historical sexual abuse specialists, for free and in confidence, about your legal options, please feel free to either complete the form below with the best way and the best time to contact you, or you can call us on 02 9283 5599.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Request a free consultation