Ten years ago, two Anglican clergymen, frustrated by internal inaction, went public with claims of up to 200 sexual abuse cases by Adelaide Anglican Church officials. One of the abusers, church youth leader, Bob Brandenburg, confessed to his crimes. He committed suicide on the day his trial was to be held. At the time of the allegations, Brandenburg was reportedly connected to the suburban Magill parish in Adelaide and Dr Phillip Aspinall (now Anglican Primate for Australia) was assistant archbishop to Archbishop Ian George for the Adelaide diocese.
Another case involved the Rev. Colin Mountford, the chaplain at Adelaide’s most prestigious Boy’s school, St. Peter’s College. Mountford fled Australia after reportedly admitting to the college’s headmaster in June 1992 that he had sexually assaulted a 14-year old male student. Mountford has claimed that he was told at the time by the Adelaide Archbishop, Ian George, to flee the country or police would be called. He went to Bali and later lived in the U.K. finally ending up in Thailand.
George has said that he did not inform police because he thought it was the school’s responsibility, and not his. While denying Mountford’s claims about him, George did admit meeting with Mountford the day he left. George also claimed that before he met with Mountford, he had been informed by the victim’s family they did not want to pursue the matter with the authorities.
Giving in to public outcry, Mr.George instituted a Church inquiry. Perhaps Mr. George should have heeded the advice of Sir Humphrey Appleby in the BBC series, “Yes Minister”, not to set up an enquiry if you don’t know the outcome. The report was damming of Mr. George and the Adelaide diocese.
The report was compiled by former Supreme Court judge Trevor Olsson and senior social lecturer Dr Donna Chung. It found that Adelaide’s Anglican Church was more concerned with protecting itself from child sexual abuse claims, from the legal and insurance perspectives, than with healing victims. The church’s first priority when confronted with sex abuse claims was often “protecting the church at all costs. The report was tabled in the South Australian Parliament.
The report said the Anglican Church was “uncaring towards victims and, at times, had the result of undermining the character of both victims and their families”. “The primary focus was essentially on the church and any likely effect upon it, or where relevant, its clergy,” the report said. “There was an emphasis on the complainant needing to `forgive’ and `understand’ the perpetrator’s motives. “The potential possibility of the involvement of the police, at the instance of the church, was seemingly abhorrent.”
The church’s Adelaide diocese board was initially defensive when confronted with sex abuse claims, the report said. “Often, its first priority seemed to be one of protecting the church at all costs,” it said. “Even to the extent, on some occasions, of warning complainants that they could be sued for defamation if their complaints could not be substantiated.”
The South Australian Rann Government launched an unprecedented attack on his administration and demanded his immediate resignation, claiming he had failed to effectively lead the church through the trauma of child sexual abuse allegations. Mr. George said he was ashamed at the findings of the report, which said complaints of child sex abuse within the diocese dated back 50 years, but he resisted calls to resign.
South Australian Treasurer and acting Premier Kevin Foley said he was “stunned and shocked” at the actions of the church and the exclusive St Peter’s College. Things got worse when the former Bishop of Tasmania Phillip Newell revealed that he had contacted Dr George and warned him of sex abuse claims against Brandenburg. The phone call on July 1, 1998, was followed the next day by a letter to the same effect, but Mr. George denied knowledge of either communication.
In a South Australian ABC Stateline interview with Ian Henschke, Mr. George indicated that the diocesan council wanted him to continue and that “I have only 10 weeks to go you see”, to which Mr.Henschke replied “ Is that a good reason to stay though, for 10 weeks”.
Finally Mr.George gave in to pressure and resigned rather than retire peacefully. At the time, a planned commemorative service for Dr George was cancelled after victims complained it was insensitive to their suffering.
A South Australian police taskforce formed in May 2004 to investigate the allegations has so far found 143 victims of child sex abuse and 58 possible offenders. One of the former Church of England Boys Society leaders, 45, will face five charges of gross indecency allegedly committed between 1986 and 1988 on a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old. A former Church of England Boys Society leader, 69, was arrested for 14 indecent assaults allegedly committed on six victims aged between 12 and 16, between 1970 and 1982.
In June 2004, Premier Rann called for the Reverend John Mountford to be found and charged. He was arrested in Bangkok in October by Royal Thai Police after a provisional arrest request by Australian authorities.
Mr. George’s peaceful retirement will probably be interrupted shortly when required to front the Royal Commission, under oath.
Tomorrow: The Primate
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)