Last week, barrister Caroline Kirton QC approached the solicitor for BSG, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and witness at the child sex abuse royal commission, to change his testimony to remove all references to her client, former Governor-General Peter Hollingworth.
Kirton’s request that BSG alter his statement would “amount to having removed every reference to the name Hollingworth from my statement and she requested that I do that and submit that as my amended statement” BSG told the royal commission.
Peter Hollingworth was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Australian of the Year and a Governor-General appointed by former LNP Prime Minister John Howard. Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General after accusations that he failed to act on child sexual abuse crimes in his diocese, and claims that he had sexually assaulted a woman in the 1960’s.
Phillip Aspinall, Hollingworth’s successor as archbishop, ordered an inquiry, which concluded that in 1993, Hollingworth had allowed a known paedophile to continue working as a priest.
It’s a tribute to the courage and fortitude of survivor and witness BSG that he wasn’t intimidated by Kirton’s approach, instead revealing to the royal commission her attempts to persuade him to change his statement to protect her client from further public scrutiny.
Kirton clearly underestimated BSG, or she wouldn’t have made the approach in the first place. Rather than hosing things down for Hollingworth, this act of cowardice only serves to strengthen the perception of the former archbishop as weak, and interested in protecting himself and his church, before the children in its charge.
Hollingworth was in a position to protect victims of sexual assault from predators on his watch. He failed to do that. Yet he now feels entitled to request protection from the shame further public scrutiny of his failure will cause him and his family, and he feels he is entitled to request this protection from a survivor of his failures.
If only Hollingworth and many others like him in positions of power in various churches and other institutions that offered paedophiles a safe haven, had even a fraction of the courage and strength of BSG and other witnesses and survivors, thousands of children could have been spared the ordeal of sexual assault and the devastating consequences of those assaults on their lives. Many who have died might still be alive. This is the responsibility Hollingworth bears, of having the power to protect children, and failing to exercise it.
If the ordeal of shame, humiliation and disgraced resignation have been difficult for Hollingworth to bear, to the degree that he needs to attempt to silence a survivor’s testimony to protect him from any further exposure, he might spare a thought for the suffering of the young who were abused by the paedophile he allowed to continue on his path of violence and destruction, when he could have acted quite differently, and spared them.