Exclusive by Josh Robertson
Updated about 9 hours ago (10 March 2020)
Anglican Church officials wrongly told a woman who was sexually abused more than 60 years ago they had to hold off resolving her complaint, then offered a payout and an apology if she agreed to a gag clause.
The church’s Brisbane diocese has admitted to again failing Beth Heinrich over her 1995 complaint, which culminated in then-governor-general Peter Hollingworth publicly blaming her for a priest sexually exploiting her as a 15-year-old.
Its apology for causing her “additional trauma and distress” through “unacceptable delays” came a day after the ABC questioned its latest missteps in the case, which led to Dr Hollingworth’s public downfall but still fuels calls for him to be stripped of millions of dollars of public benefits.
The diocese in January belatedly offered Ms Heinrich up to $30,000 for its mishandling of her complaint, which Dr Hollingworth dismissed repeatedly when he was archbishop of Brisbane.
- Beth Heinrich pressed the Anglican Church in Brisbane for redress after former archbishop Peter Hollingworth stood by the priest who sexually abused her
- The diocese said it could not resolve her complaint because it would “prejudice” another church investigation of Dr Hollingworth
- Church investigators denied this and the diocese then offered Ms Heinrich a payout and an apology if she kept it confidential
The offer was a fraction of the $200,000 she sought — a figure she said was increased after independent legal advice and church officials in Melbourne advising that her original request for $50,000 was too little.
The Brisbane diocese also told her in January it was “happy to provide an apology” but this should be kept “confidential” until its Melbourne counterpart ended a separate investigation into whether Dr Hollingworth should be stripped of his Holy Orders.
Its request for secrecy contrasted with Dr Hollingworth’s widely publicised 2002 comments on ABC TV’s Australian Story program that it was “not sex abuse” by priest, and later bishop, Donald Shearman, but “rather the other way round”.
“It was devastating for me at the time [and] I’m still really angry about it because there’s been no ending to it,” Ms Heinrich told the ABC.
“[Dr Hollingworth] knew the true story but he chose to lie about me and victim blame.”
A church spokesman said: “The Brisbane diocese acknowledges there have been unacceptable delays in finalising a redress claim of Ms Beth Heinrich”.
“The diocese apologises that this has caused her additional trauma and distress,” the spokesman said.
‘Most extraordinary case’
Child protection expert and University of South Australia adjunct professor Chris Goddard said Ms Heinrich’s was “the most extraordinary case of so-called secondary abuse I have ever seen”.
He helped Ms Heinrich prepare her testimony to the royal commission into child sexual abuse, with a 300-page presentation involving about 70 documents.
“To my knowledge [Dr Hollingworth] has never publicly apologised for the public humiliation of Beth,” Professor Goddard said.
In 2005, the Bathurst Anglican diocese paid Ms Heinrich $100,000 over Mr Shearman’s abuse of her while running the church hostel where she was a school boarder in the 1950s.
Ms Heinrich said she decided to press a complaint over Brisbane diocese’s mishandling of the matter, after it advertised in a newspaper for survivors to come forward in the wake of the royal commission into child sex abuse in institutions.
In October 2017, the diocese told her it had “little option but to wait for the findings of the Melbourne investigation before [we] can advance and conclude the consideration of your complaints and claim”.
‘Happy to consider an apology’
It said any examination of her complaint “could not be safely concluded until the findings of the Melbourne committee are known, and may risk prejudicing the Melbourne investigation”.
However, the diocese changed its tune in August 2018 after Ms Heinrich questioned the delay.
It told her that it “might be possible to deal with your claim on a private and confidential basis without waiting for the outcome” from Melbourne.
It said the diocese was “happy to consider an apology” but it would be “better delivered” after Melbourne’s findings.
Any settlement would need to be “private and confidential” so as “not to prejudice” the other investigation, it said.
But Melbourne church officials contradicted this last November.
“I can confirm that any compensation or redress paid to you will not impact the investigation,” Kooyoora Ltd executive director Fiona Boyle said in a letter.
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The Brisbane diocese then offered Ms Heinrich “$25,000 in full and final resolution of your current complaint, plus $5,000 towards counselling”.
It told her it still had no “established redress policy” to deal with mishandling of complaints.
The church spokesman said Ms Heinrich “did not respond” to the 2018 offer but “it was remiss of the diocese not to have followed up with further contact and support”.
He confirmed it had again “reached out to Ms Heinrich to seek to reach a satisfactory settlement”.
‘Privacy, power and secrecy’
Professor Goddard said churches used “privacy, power and secrecy” to intimidate victims.
“As a last resort, they pretend not to have any procedures at all to deal with the complaint,” he said.
Ms Heinrich said the church’s continual “fobbing off” of her complaint was at odds with its pledges to do right by victims after the royal commission.
“I just think they’re sorry that people have got the fortitude to stand up and keep saying they’re not happy with the way they’ve been treated,” she said.
“They want you to run away and hide and take your problems with you — the reason I’m speaking up now is because I feel I’m the last one … I’m standing on my own.”
Ms Heinrich said she first approached the Brisbane diocese thinking “the church is a Christian community”.
“It was just a corporation and all they wanted to do was cover up for their masters and protect them.”
Then-archbishop Hollingworth oversaw the failed 1995 mediation, in which Mr Shearman admitted to grooming Ms Heinrich from the age of 14 and sexually abusing her from 15.
Mr Shearman had continued an extra-marital relationship with Ms Heinrich in adulthood.
Dr Hollingworth did not suspend Mr Shearman, move to defrock him or offer redress to Ms Heinrich.
He wrote to Ms Heinrich that there was “a very wide discrepancy” in her and Mr Shearman’s versions of the abuse and he was a “much-valued” minister.
Ms Heinrich reported the abuse to police but a statute of limitations meant Mr Shearman could not be prosecuted.
She said the church had never acknowledged that Mr Shearman’s conduct was criminal.
“That’s what I’d like,” Ms Heinrich said.
‘Inappropriate and unfair’
In 2001, Ms Heinrich saw Mr Shearman conducting Easter Mass on TV and asked Dr Hollingworth to strip Mr Shearman of his permission to officiate.
Dr Hollingworth refused, telling her Mr Shearman was “now well into his 70s [and] has sought to resolve the matter with you and exercised contrition in a Christian spirit”.
“I am sorry that you cannot accept the efforts that he and we have made which does allow for a new start with a penitent heart,” Dr Hollingworth said.
Ms Heinrich said after the failed mediation, Dr Hollingworth breached diocese protocol by refusing to give her a hearing before its sex abuse complaints committee.
She said a staffer for Dr Hollingworth gave repeated excuses for not providing a copy of the protocol, including that Brisbane weather made people “lethargic”.
A 2003 Anglican board of inquiry was split on Dr Hollingworth’s support of Mr Shearman.
The chairman found it “reasonable” and another member said he failed to show “proper moral leadership”.
But the inquiry found it was “inappropriate and unfair” of Dr Hollingworth to repeatedly suggest Ms Heinrich was “acting unreasonably in not treating the matter at an end”.
The inquiry condemned Dr Hollingworth for allowing another confessed child sex predator to remain a priest and he quit as governor-general.
In 2004, Mr Shearman was defrocked.
‘We know how traumatic these matters can be’
Ms Heinrich unsuccessfully complained to the Queensland Law Society after a lawyer acting for the Brisbane diocese removed parts of her affidavit for the proceedings.
A federal senator last November introduced a private member’s bill that could strip Dr Hollingworth of millions of dollars in public benefits over his mishandling of sex abuse complaints in the church.
“I feel if he’d had any integrity, he would have said I won’t be accepting the governor-general’s pension,” Ms Heinrich said.
“I think people would have admired him for that, but they certainly don’t now.”
Ms Boyle told the ABC she could not comment on any matter under investigation but that “we know how traumatic these matters can be”.
“The process is often time-consuming and we aim to support people throughout,” Ms Boyle said.
“We offer case management, psychological care and other practical assistance.”
Topics: religion-and-beliefs, community-and-society, law-crime-and-justice, anglicans, human-interest, people, sexual-offences,sexual-misconduct, activism-and-lobbying, government-and-politics, brisbane-4000, vic, qld, australia