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AUSTRALIA: Newcastle Anglican church may sell some assets to pay abuse victims

AUSTRALIA: Newcastle Anglican church may sell some assets to pay abuse victims
Bishop Peter Stuart says they fully support the establishment of a best practice commonwealth redress scheme
The Anglican church of Newcastle says it is committed to 'righting wrongs of the past'

By Melissa Davey
THE GUARDIAN
https://www.theguardian.com/
May 12, 2017

The Anglican church of Newcastle has told its members it may sell some of its assets to meet redress payments for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

In a background briefing document sent to the church's members before a Synod meeting on 27 May, the bishop Peter Stuart said the Synod must renew its commitment to facing abuse within the church.

"We fully support the establishment of a best practice Commonwealth Redress Scheme for abuse survivors and will do all that we can to enable the Diocese to exercise the option to 'opt in' into the scheme," the document, seen by Guardian Australia, says.

Bishop Greg Thompson on being a sexual abuse survivor and the threats that made him resign

"We welcome the fact that the scheme will be independent of the Church and will assist survivors access the support and counselling they seek."

The Synod meeting will occur one week after the retiring bishop Greg Thompson delivers his final service in Newcastle. Thompson had announced that he would stand down in May, citing the unrelenting abuse he received for helping the child sexual abuse royal commission gather information. He also told his own story of abuse, and faced subsequent harassment from members of his own church for doing so.

Stuart told Guardian Australia on Friday that the Newcastle church was committed to "righting wrongs of the past".

"For the meeting on the 27th we will put forward a range of options to make sure the Synod is aware of what options we need to deliver redress, because we want to be transparent," he said.

"That could involve cutting costs, engaging in further borrowing or selling some assets. We understand survivors want the church to face up and address the harm from the past."

The royal commission asked independent data analysts to design and analyse a survey of the 23 Anglican church dioceses in Australia and gather information about complaints of child sexual abuse received between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 2015.

They found 1,082 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse among the 1,115 recorded complaints made to 22 Anglican church dioceses. The results underestimate the extent of the abuse -- many victims are now dead or face barriers to coming forward. The results also do not include complaints of child sexual abuse in all the institutions associated with the church.

The co-founder of the Care Leavers Australia Network, Leonie Sheedy, whose organisation represents those abused in out-of-home care -- including those run by churches, said the church should have to sell its assets if it came to that.

"But there will never be enough money to compensate people for their ruined, shattered lives."

Sheedy said she felt particularly sad for those physically but not sexually abused in privately run orphanages, who struggled to receive compensation or redress. One woman, who wanted to be identified only as "Marie", was forced into hard labour as a child while in a privately-run orphanage. She was made to work for a large-scale laundry, and was left with chronic pain and back injuries. She did not qualify for state redress, because the institution was not state-run.

"I was only a little girl and we had to work like men," she said. "We did the laundry for the hospital which was ghastly, with all the theatre linen stained with blood.

"We worked in it every day except Sunday. My sister was burned by the theatre linen, and the blood and the stains after her arm was left in the steam press."

On Friday, the Australian reported that the federal government would be forced to set aside $600m for survivors of child sexual abuse in its national redress scheme, 50% more than the royal commission estimates.

But a spokesman for the social services minister, Christian Porter, told Guardian Australia the government was yet to complete actuarial work to determine the exact costs, and that he did not know where the $600m figure came from, given the analysis was not complete.

Porter had separately told Guardian Australia the Commonwealth was "undertaking such analysis at present, parallel to the Advisory Committee which is determining the detailed design elements of the scheme".

"The royal commission provided a preliminary figure of $4bn and noted that the Commonwealth might be responsible for about 10 per cent of redress claims," he said.

"Naturally, the Commonwealth is testing this modelling in the context of the final design principles and is also finalising related administrative costs, such as IT costs, which will be substantial. We will obviously be meeting the cost of redress for those survivors for whom the Commonwealth has responsibility."

The federal treasurer, Scott Morrison, has allocated $33.4m in his budget delivered this week towards setting up the commonwealth redress scheme.

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