Abuse apology by former archbishop offered to Royal Commission

Archbishop Peter Hollingworth conceded there had been a “massive failure” in the church’s handling of abuse allegations in Brisbane

The former Governor-General of Australia and Archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Rev. Peter Hollingworth, appeared before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse last week, conceding there had been a “massive failure” in promoting a headmaster who hired two paedophiles to oversee all Anglican schools in the diocese. Over nine days of testimony, 29 witnesses were asked about abuse committed by two teachers at Brisbane Grammar School and St Paul’s School in the 1980s. The victims told the Commission they had been called liars and troublemakers when they informed the headmaster and other senior officials of the abuse committed by the teachers, one who took his life after being arrested while the other was jailed for abusing children at another school. Dr. Hollingworth, who resigned in 2003 as Governor-General in response to his criticism of his handling of child abuse allegations brought to his attention when he served as archbishop, testified at the close of the two week hearing held at Brisbane’s magistrate court. Before he was questioned on 13 Nov 2015, Dr. Hollingworth read a statement to the commission: “This is an apology to the survivors of abuse. I have asked to make an apology before I give evidence to the Royal Commission. I do so, Your Honour, as an individual person and as a former archbishop. My apology is to the children, now adults, and the families of those who have been abused. It’s offered to all of you who have suffered great pain and become disillusioned that your complaints were not dealt with from the outset as they should have been.” He said he was “appalled by the abuse you suffered at the hand of the two school staff members from St Paul’s School. I am saddened about the way these matters were dealt with during my time as archbishop. I deeply regret that I did not press harder to have your complaints investigated more rigorously. If I had exercised stronger authority, they may have been addressed more promptly and in a better manner.” In hindsight it was clear: “we did not do enough to help you, and the actions of the Diocese and the school compounded your distress and suffering, and for that I am very sorry. Over the past 12 years, I have examined my conscience over these matters and I have read and learnt a great deal more about the damage done to the lives of young people.” He ended his prepared remarks by stating: “I now understand far more about the negative and lasting impacts that can resurface through a person’s adult life and the emotional and psychological damage inflicted on the survivors. The more I have learnt about the long-term effects on the survivors of sexual abuse, the better I understand the importance of how the complaints are dealt with. I am saddened and regret that your needs were not addressed as they should have been. Our young people have the right to go through life trusting that adults, charged with nurturing and caring for them, will never cause them harm. Too many children have had their trust destroyed and as a result endure a lifetime of suffering. I am extremely sorry that that church and I failed to protect you.”

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