The Primate (Or: Oil Floats Too)

Phillip Aspinall is the Primate of Australia for the Anglican church ( formerly the Church of England ). Before that he was, and still is, the Archbishop of Brisbane. When he was appointed to this position, because Peter Hollingworth had moved on to be Governor-General, his first action was to appoint an inquiry into Mr. Hollingworth’s term of office. For this inquiry he chose Prof. Freda Briggs, a well-known child safety activist, and Mr. Peter O’Callaghan, QC.

The latter person is of interest as he has been the Catholic Church’s “independent” commissioner into child abuse claims. The report was damning of Hollingworth and contributed to his subsequent resignation as Govenor-General. Hollingworth later claimed the report had denied him natural justice.

Before moving to Brisbane, he was assistant  to  Ian George who resigned in disgrace over claims he failed to act on abuses in Adelaide. Aspinall had been drawn himself into the scandal there. The main claim involved Anglican priest, Garth Hawkins who was convicted of nine charges involving teenage boys from the 1970’s and 1980’s. During that time, Hawkins who was involved in the Church of England’s Boys Society in Tasmania, formally commissioned a young priest ( Phillip Aspinall ) as a field officer for the Society.

During Hawkins’ trial, a victim claimed that Mr.Aspinall arranged, or urged, him to go to Hawkins, and that he was then abused, a claim Aspinall denies.  In what was described in several media articles as an “extraordinary move” Mr. Aspinall issued a lengthy statement of denial, including also a further claim that he had a sexual relationship with the man making the original claims.

In an interview with Jo Mazzocchi on the ABC radio PM program ( 22nd.August, 2003 ) , Mr. Aspinall said that “at the time of the alleged assault by the priest, the person who contacted me, and I, were both young adults and both church youth group leaders. I was 22, and he was 18. I was not a priest. Both of us were part of a group of adult friends who were staying overnight at the accused person’s house. I absolutely and totally reject the assertion that I arranged for this person to share the accused person’s bed. There was no suggestion of any untoward behaviour until this allegation surfaced twenty years later.” On the matter of a sexual relationship with the victim, Aspinall said the he “ absolutely and totally rejects this hearsay upon hearsay allegation”.

As covered in yesterday’s posting, Bob Brandenburg was charged with offences in Adelaide. While Ian George was archbishop, Aspinall as the assistant Bishop, was on a committee which investigated Brandenburg. On May 22nd. 2003, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Survivors Confronting Child Abuse and Rape group had called for Mr. Aspinall to explain his associations with Bob Brandenburg.

By the time the Adelaide controversy had reached its climax with the resignation of Ian George, Mr. Aspinall had moved to Brisbane to take up his position there. Just before George’s resignation, Aspinall “defended his handling of paedophile cases in Adelaide” but “admitted that things could have been done better.” He revealed the church had received advice from its insurer that any attempt to seek out further victims would result in its insurance being invalidated.  ( SMH 22/5/03).  Despite the fact that local Anglicans had been calling for an inquiry ( which George later established  ) including Mr.Aspinall’s role, Mr.Aspinall has not had to resign.

Unfortunately for him, controversy has arisen from his present role as Archibishop of Brisbane. In November 2006, Robert Francis Sharwood, 62, was sentenced in the Brisbane District Court to two years and nine months’ jail, suspended after he served a year. Sharwood had been chaplain at Brisbane’s top Anglican school, “Churchie” since 1985. A victim of Sharwood accused Aspinall of failing to act on evidence concerning Sharwood. He claimed that Aspinall did not contact police over an incriminating letter sent to Aspinall on 26th. June 2002.

Mr. Aspinall  admitted he had not referred the 2002 letter to police, with the victim only learning of its existence 18 months later when he obtained it in the legal discovery process. The letter was from a priest protesting Sharwood’s sacking from his position at Churchie. Canon Hood, in the letter, said that the parents were good members of the Anglican Church and had forgiven Sharwood for the abuse.

The telling part relating to the Anglican Church’s attitude came where Hood stated that he was “at a loss to understand why the mistake which happened so long ago should now be the subject of Robert’s dismissal from Churchie as there were no other incidents at any time, to my knowledge.”  Hood did not report the abuse to police.

In a more recent case, in 2009, self-confessed child sex offender and senior Brisbane Anglican priest Canon Barry Greaves was sentenced. The crimes occurred while he was a priest at Boonah in the early 1980s .  Knowledge of his own sex offending against children failed to deter him from seeking and gaining high office in the Anglican Church. He accepted the position of being an Archbishop’s chaplain to Brisbane Archbishop Dr Peter Hollingworth in 1999. He stayed on as an Archbishop’s chaplain to the incoming Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall  in 2002.

[POSTSCRIPTS: Recently, the Brisbane diocese voted down a proposal to dispense with the statute of limitations defense against abuse claims.

Until it was sold for about $11m. (  then a record ), Mr.Aspinall lived in the Anglican church mansion in Hamilton, Brisbane. The Anglican Church purchased a new home for him at Ascot, Brisbane for $2.6 m. It has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, ensuite, two-car garage, fireplace, swimming pool and out-door entertainment areas. ]

Perhaps the last word on the rise and rise of Phillip Aspinall should be given to victim, Tommy  Campion:-“ In my opinion it would be a wonderful weekend retreat for people abused in Anglican homes.”

Further reading:-

Tomorrow :  Power Distance and Abuse

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.