The Anglican North Coast Children’s Home (Or: Better Late Than Never)

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Keith Slater, Anglican Archbishop of Grafton, has resigned. He should have done so long ago. His resignation only comes after a “little talk” with the Anglican Primate of Australia, Phillip Aspinall, who in turn appears to have only acted after attention from the Royal Commission, in the form of a request for documents relating to the Anglican North Coast Children’s Home.

Activist Richard “Tommy” Campion brought the abuses in the Home to public and church attention years ago. This is the point at which Slater should have resigned. However, in the words of Catholic Church bishop, Denis Hart, on a different matter (see yesterday’s posting), the resignation is “better late than never”.

A Press Release by Slater states “I also acknowledge that, by not referring these matters, the Professional Standards Director was not provided with information that could have assisted ongoing internal and Police investigations. All information has now been provided to the Professional Standards Director who is currently liaising with the Police to ensure that all relevant information has been provided to them.”

It is easy to see the threat of the upcoming Royal Commission scrutiny of his actions playing a role here.

Anglican Primate Aspinall well knows how it would look if Slater had not resigned. Despite saying he has no authority over the Grafton diocese, it is clear that pressure was applied, for the good of the Anglican Church’s reputation in general.

Another bone of contention with the Anglican Church, with regards to the North Coast Children’s Home abuses (which are among the worst this author has read about), has been that Slater took the advice of his lawyers to deny responsibility for the Home. It is claimed that it was under a local committee, not the Anglican Church.

This is despite many indications to the contrary, including a prominent sign declaring it an Anglican Home, being in the grounds of its church and local clergy being usually involved with it. A trove.com note (see ref. below) quotes an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of Friday, 23rd. of August, 1935 which states that the Home “is controlled and maintained principally by the Church of England”.

Splitting legal hairs like this should have been enough for Slater to resign. Slater’s weasel words included “the sticking point appears to be the almost academic legal point as to who had a duty of care at the relevant time”, yet he chose to accept this distinction to avoid responsibility.

A key player in this drama was Rev. Pat Comben, manager of the Grafton diocese. Mr. Comben, who is usually described as a friend of former Governor-General and Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth, supported calls for Hollingworth’s resignation (see previous posting) after a long period of support.

Mr Comben was the environment minister in the Goss Queensland Government in 1990 when cabinet decided to shred the evidence gathered during the Heiner Inquiry (see previous postings). He appeared on the Nine Network’s Sunday Program in 1999 and told viewers that cabinet was aware of child abuse at the John Oxley Youth Centre. He later retracted his claims, apparently after pressure from the Government.

He also retracted comments to Mr. Campion about responsibility for the Home which he had described as an “Anglican place”. Mr. Comben said he had made the statement when he had only recently joined the diocese and was ignorant of the Home’s history. Comben said the home was not run by the Church, but by a “local community committee”. Presumably, Slater and the church lawyers had something to do with this change.

The good Mr. Comben made a statement which should result in him also resigning. This was that “Any claims of abuse had to be considered in the light of different views on corporal punishment in previous eras.” The abuses that have been revealed at the ANGLICAN North Coast Children’s Home were not acceptable, or excusable, in any era.

The details of the abuses at this Home are detailed in the links given below. The last word on the matter should be given to Mr. Campion, who was a Nikon news photograph of the year winner in the 1980s, and one of Queensland’s most prominent press photographers.

“It is with much suffering that I urge the Royal Commission to listen to my story.”

[Postscript: Legal Aid NSW expects a large number of compensation applications from victims as a result of the Royal Commission. However, it says it will not fund civil claims against either the church or the state government, citing “available funds and competing priorities”.]

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Where are we yet again?

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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