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Survivors and advocates have condemned “cruel” and “dysfunctional” delays in a case to potentially oust Peter Hollingworth, the former Australian Governor-General and former Archbishop of Brisbane, for failing to act on allegations of child abuse in the Anglican church. .
A secret hearing to decide Hollingworth’s fate at the church will begin on Monday, more than five years after the first complaints were filed through the Melbourne diocese’s Kooyoora complaints system.
The protracted process, launched by complaints in 2018, has now taken longer than the entire royal child abuse commission, which held 8,013 closed sessions and made 2,575 referrals to authorities in the same time.
The royal commission found that in 1993, when Hollingworth was Archbishop of Brisbane, lay preacher John Linton Elliot admitted to him that he had abused two children. Hollingworth spoke to one of the survivors, BYB, who told her that “Elliot was a pedophile and Elliot had abused him for a number of years,” the royal commission found.
Hollingworth then sought the opinion of a psychiatrist, John Slaughter, who “formed the opinion that Elliot was a pedophile and that his personality type was intractable,” according to the royal commission.
“We are satisfied that the information Dr. Slaughter passed on to Dr. Hollingworth around September 1993 was sufficient to alert him that Elliot posed a continuing risk to the children,” the royal commission concluded.
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Despite this, Hollingworth allowed Elliot to continue in his role as rector of Dalby until he finally retired five years later.
The royal commission described it as a “serious error of judgement” and Hollingworth apologized for his handling of the matter.
Hollingworth was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane for 11 years from 1989 and then served as Governor-General from 2001 to 2003. He resigned after his handling of sexual abuse allegations drew repeated criticism, including for his comments about the survivor. Beth Heinrich.
A royal commission analysis of abuse allegations in the 23 Anglican dioceses from 1980 to the end of 2015 showed that the Diocese of Brisbane had by far the highest, recording 33% of all allegations and a total of 371. Adelaide, the diocese with the next highest number of complaints, received less than half that number.
After the end of the royal commission five years ago, complaints about Hollingworth were made through the Anglican complaints process, Kooyoora.
The complaints have progressed through a complicated multi-step process, which included investigation by Vincent Lucas, Kooyoora’s then director of professional standards. ABC reported that Lucas had told a survivor in 2018 that there was “more than enough justification to prove [Dr Hollingworth’s] inability to have Holy Orders”.
The matter has not been finalized in the five years since then and is now before a professional standards tribunal, which is held behind closed doors and is otherwise shrouded in secrecy.
The Guardian understands that the court was meant to hear the matter for the first time in December 2021. The repeated hearing delays were first reported in the Australian.
Child protection expert and advocate Hetty Johnston said it was “more unbelievable that this process has gone on for so long.”
Related: George Pell: What the five-year royal commission on child sexual abuse found
“It has to finish next week,” he told The Guardian on Friday.
“Churches should remember the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ The same applies to the court as to the courts. This court must not operate in a way that shows it believes it is above the law.
“The best interest of justice and that of the survivors is being denied by the current judicial processes. It is cruel, ignorant, inexplicable and pompous.”
One whistleblower, who requested anonymity, described the disciplinary process as “dysfunctional and fit for purpose”.
“Six years of delays has been torture,” said the complainant. “They tell us absolutely nothing. They didn’t even respond to many complainants. They cancel proceedings at the last minute leaving everyone distraught.”
“One complainant missed surgery because the church did not communicate what was happening.”
The Melbourne diocese said the complaints process was “fully independent” and had “no influence” on the investigation.
“The complaints process about Bishop Hollingworth is, properly speaking, completely independent from the Diocese of Melbourne,” a spokesperson said. “The diocese has had no influence on the investigation and the archbishop cannot comment on the process.”
But the plaintiff rejected the claim of independence.
“The process is not independent of the Diocese, it is the Diocese,” said the complainant. “The Diocese wrote the dysfunctional procedures, the Diocese funds the process, the Diocese can hire and fire staff, and many of the people on the decision-making board are members of the Diocese, are clergy and other high-level personnel.” .
Kooyoora’s chief executive, Fiona Boyle, was unable to comment on the specific case, but said the organization’s overall goal was to support “fair, speedy and cost-effective resolution of complaints.”
“The complaints we handle are typically resolved within six weeks to 12 months,” Boyle said. “In complex matters, this can take longer. We recognize that the delay can be upsetting and frustrating for those involved in the process.”
Boyle said support was also offered to whistleblowers.