Appellate Tribunal finds deposition from holy orders of Keith Slater was “null and void”
The Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia has overturned the deposition from holy orders of the retired Bishop of Grafton, holding the diocese’s Professional Standards Board did not have jurisdiction over its former bishop. The sentence of deposition handed down by the current bishop of Grafton over her predecessor for mishandling the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the diocese was thus “null and void”.
On 16 Oct 2015 the Bishop of Grafton, the Rt. Rev. Sarah Macneil told the Australian church’s bishops the Professional Standards Board of the Diocese of Grafton headed by former Supreme Court judge Moreton Rolfe QC had recommended the Rt. Rev. Keith Slater be “deposed from holy orders” in light of his “systematic failure to comply with professional standards and protocols, particularly in responding both to allegations of abuse at the North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore during the period 1940 to 1980 and to claims for compensation.”
A press statement released by the diocese said the decision meant the former bishop no longer held any position in the Anglican Church and returned to the status of a layman.
In May 2013 Keith Slater resigned as Bishop of Grafton after ten years of service over his mishandling of abuse allegations. In 2006 the diocese received a number of claims alleging acts of “physical, psychological and sexual abuse” at the home between the 1940s and the 1980s alleged carried out by staff, visiting clergy and other residents.
Thirty-nine claims were settled in 2007 at which time seven other complainants came forward. An audit of how these complaints were handled was then undertaken in preparation for the royal commission into child sex abuse, with the initial findings indicating that the proper protocols “had not always been applied.”
In his letter of resignation, the former bishop said: “I acknowledge and apologise for my past failings in the management of claims of abuse in the Diocese of Grafton,” adding: “I acknowledge and apologise for the additional pain and damage that my decisions have caused to the survivors of abuse who came forward to share their story with me and seek assistance.”
Bishop Slater appealed his sentence of deposition to the church’s Appellate Tribunal, which handed down its ruling on 17 January 2017. The decision did not address the substance of the charges against the former bishop, but focused on the question of jurisdiction.
It held the action taken by Bishop Macneil was not allowed under the 2004 Diocese of Grafton Professional Standards Ordinance which applied only to active “church workers”. As Bishop Slater had resigned his position before the charges of misconduct were brought, he could not be disciplined under the Ordinance as it was written. The ruling stated: “The Appellate Tribunal lacks appellate jurisdiction in the matter. In setting out its reasons, the Appellate Tribunal has also concluded that the deposition of Bishop Slater from Holy Orders was null and void on various grounds.”
In a statement given to The Australian Bishop Macneil said: “I am disappointed that the professional standards legislation put in place by the diocese of Grafton, on the recommendation of the national church, has been shown in this case to be deficient and that our legislation does not appear to be applicable in some cases. We will be working with the relevant bodies in the church to ensure that all people who have positions of authority and leadership can be held accountable.”