Archbishop John Hepworth and the Traditional Anglican Communion: Reflections
December 9, 2011 13 Comments
To Archbishop John Hepworth (Primate), the TAC College of Bishops, Bishop Michael Gill (my Ordinary) fellow Clergy, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
I wish to reiterate a previous call (made publically), for Archbishop John Hepworth to step down as Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion and to do so forthwith. Under the present circumstances, it is the only honourable thing left for him to do.
By now, most people have heard of the Archbishop’s appal shaming of a Roman Catholic Priest, a Vicar General and the former Director-General of the Chaplaincy in the Australian Navy who, up until this point, had been a Priest in good standing. This was done via the mouthpiece of independent senator, Nick Xenophon, who used his ‘parliamentary privilege’ to ‘name and shame’ the Catholic Priest. The ambiguous claim made by Archbishop Hepworth was that he was raped by the said Priest some 45 years ago. Hepworth was a 24 years old man at the time. It is the Herald Sun, that gives us some insight into the graphic, sad and sordid details (quoting verbatim our Primate):
‘Let’s first remind ourselves that “rape” generally means the victim was forced to have sex against their expressed will, usually because they were too weak to resist. The rapist must also know that the victim was objecting.
It’s a terrible accusation, and X has now had his reputation trashed. Who believes a Catholic priest is innocent when the hostile press brays that he’s a rapist or might be?
Yet even the most basic facts of this case raise grave doubts.
Hepworth says he was at least 24 years old when X allegedly raped him; X was one year older. This is not the stereotype of an older priest intimidating a boy.
Nor is it obvious that X could have overwhelmed Hepworth with his strength. Hepworth is 1.88m tall — or six feet two. X is shorter.
Hepworth doesn’t claim he was drugged or drunk, either.
He told The Australian he’d been invited to the beach one night by two priests, one of whom “stripped off and began wrestling with me”.
“He was stronger than me,” Hepworth said. “Or perhaps I was just weary of it all … I remember cold, wet sand…
But then comes a caveat: “I want to state quite clearly that I never fully consented to sexual activity …”
Never “fully” consented? What does that mean?
In fact, Hepworth describes his reaction hours later as not one of anger, but guilt: “I had an awareness of the illegality of homosexuality, a sense of gross sinfulness, but also a sense of the glamour of the group with which I had been involved.”
Couldn’t this suggest that Hepworth’s “no” was a quiet no from his conscience, not a loud one to his “rapist”? Indeed, Hepworth claims he was sexually assaulted by X up to seven more times, yet not once did this tall man forcefully resist. He says he felt “so weakened physically and emotionally” by his past abuse that he just gave in.
To the ABC, Hepworth told a similarly ambiguous story.
ABC: Why were you unable to stop it?
Hepworth: Even though I was six foot two and I was fairly light in those days, but I always thought myself a very small person, very weak person.
I was trying to befriend a few people, priests. I think it was out of a sense of loneliness, also a sense of an effort to belong. And then the experiences of (his past abuse) particularly, of overtures that I couldn’t resist and didn’t know how to, repeated itself a number of times.
And when I had come close to people whose company I found thrilling, entertaining, invigorating and then these events happened, I think I was confusing the expectation of sex almost with friendship.
ABC: Does that mean that the people with which you were involved in these episodes would have thought that you had consented?
Hepworth: No. I would say things that were negative. No, not this. No, don’t . . . I don’t believe anybody could have thought I was consenting. I was taken advantage of.
He confused sex with friendship? Wanted to belong? Said no to some things?
Even on his evidence, there seems more reason to doubt Hepworth was raped than there is to believe it.
In fact, X strongly denies any rape, and at his press conference one parishioner called him “a good shepherd” and another, a retired judge, “a good bloke”.
Moreover, Hepworth’s credibility has been challenged in the past.
He concedes he faced a Ballarat court about 30 years ago, charged with misappropriating $1200 — a lot of money back then — from his Anglican parish to pay for his son’s baptism party.
“I pleaded not guilty. The magistrate refused to find any verdict,” Hepworth told the Canberra Times.
“I was trying to stop the marriage breaking up. My then wife wanted a big party and I could not afford it.
“The diocese brought (the charge) because I had wrongly used … (a parish account) and regretted it … I had paid an account intending to pay it back.”
Hepworth was also accused of financial irregularities at Glenelg, an Adelaide parish he administered in 1974, but says his bishop refused to confirm any allegations to an investigator.
Again, he denies any wrongdoing and we must give him the benefit of the doubt.’
I must at this point state that none of these things were previously known – and not least of all by those whom Archbishop Hepworth was now supposed to be shepherding. It is here that things really began to unravel, and rapidly so. In light of the ‘breaking news’, a call was immediately made in the form of a resolution passed during a meeting of the Anglican Church in America for the Archbishop to resign. He chose rather frivolously, to ‘rebuff’ the call:
‘Archbishop Hepworth told ABC radio this morning he still had the support of his church and the Vatican to proceed with negotiations.
“Nine years ago, when I became the primate, I wrote to the then Cardinal Ratzinger who headed the CDF, which is where unity takes place, and said that if I ever became an obstacle through my personal circumstances or background, then understand that I will step aside,” Archbishop Hepworth said.
“Now, at the moment, the Vatican isn’t saying that to me, they’re saying to me the opposite, to keep going as you are.”
He said calls for his resignation by the Anglican Church in America House of Clergy were spurred on by church politics and the ongoing public spat with the Adelaide Archdiocese over the rape investigation.’
Far be that from what the true intention was (at least not from what I can see): A call for the Traditional Anglican Communion to be distanced and spared from the embarrassment of becoming embroiled in a repulsive sex scandal, one that should have been a private point of conflict between the Primate and the Catholic Church. However showing very little regard for anyone but himself, the Archbishop rather selfishly blundered on:
‘The head of the Traditional Anglican Communion, John Hepworth, is hoping a reunion between his church and the Pope will be ratified within weeks despite concerns his abuse complaints could hinder the process.
Archbishop Hepworth’s group, which splintered from the Anglican Church and wants to unite with the Catholic Church, has 400,000 members. “I think it will be a very successful resolution in the new year,” he said.’
Something else then briefly surfaced:
‘Controversial Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth has offered to drop demands for action over rape allegations against a senior priest identified in Parliament.
In exchange he would like help to return to the Catholic Church.’
The above report was however quickly rubbished (the very next day) – it had to be for the insinuation would be tantamount to a form of blackmail.
Next came the real bitter pill:
‘Archbishop John Hepworth will be forced to relinquish his role as the primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion if he is to reconcile with the Catholic Church, after being informed he will only be accepted as a layperson.’
Total disbelief. I recall saying at the time: ‘this will surely test (and demonstrate) the sincerity of the man’. And I believe it has done exactly that.
While the decision made by the Roman Catholic Church is but a standard procedure applied to anyone who has forsaken his vows and abandoned the Catholic Priesthood - as John Hepworth did - humility, honesty and following the conviction of his previously vociferously held beliefs (namely, the ‘accept[ance of] the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter… [and] that the Church founded by Jesus Christ subsists most perfectly in the churches in communion with the See of Peter’), the Archbishop should have submitted to the judgement of that higher authority, one he so believed in. But alas, this was not to be. Instead of doing so, and showing the world what true humility faith so frequently seems to demand of us, he weighed his options and decided to:
- Take his ‘sex case’ to the police.
- Resign as Primate at Pentecost but stay on as Bishop Ordinary in Australia and Japan, and under legislation of the Canadian General Synod, Primate of the ACCC.
His first choice amounted to a total public spectacle. Posing, striding in full regalia in front of the Adelaide Police Station prompted one commentator to reflect:
‘I fail to see how any of this public posturing aids in the fulfilment of what should be any bishop’s mission in life (or indeed any Christian’s)–the furtherance of the cause of the Gospel. It saddens me deeply.’
Every bit of evidence, investigation, and inquiry, apart from his own testimony, shows that there is absolutely no substance to his claim to have been raped by the Catholic Priest. None. Zip. Nothing. What does he possibly hope to accomplish now and why does he not do so in a personal capacity? Leave the TAC out of it. Please!
As for the second pronouncement, by whose authority does he get to make such a decision, one begs to ask? His own? The Church is not some kind of autocratic state where you get to do as you see fit. Collegiality is how it is supposed to work Archbishop. Why? So that we can avoid falling into error and sin. Now, in this case: One day you’re merrily off to Rome, and the next, oh, but the offer was somehow not quite good enough? So now I’ll stay? Surely not Archbishop, for that would make you, by your very own words, nothing short of a hypocrite.
It is the now expressed will of the majority of his sheep and fellow Bishops, that Archbishop Hepworth resign to sort out the mess that he alone has created for himself; and moreover, to stop dragging and bringing the credibility of the TAC as a whole into disrepute. Truly, there are ‘none so blind as those that will not see’ (Matthew Henry). Why will Archbishop John Hepworth not accept the facts as they stand, and do what can be the only honourable and pastoral thing left to do? Go to the Catholic Church (as promised to do, vocally and numerous times, over the past four years) or resign as Primate while seeking the wise and godly counsel of fellow brother Bishops in the TAC College of Bishops. Not at Pentecost. Now. The fall out and damage is massive as things stand. Instead, he superciliously seems to find their opinion to be ‘whimsical’?
What is so sad here – and this is so glaringly obvious – is that if the Roman Church had offered John Hepworth a collar, he would in all likelihood have gone (a pectoral cross would have been an added bonus of course). And because they will only, as discerned before an Almighty, Living God, receive him back as a layman, he will not go (?!), and that, despite the fact, that he believe Rome to be home.
The Holy Scriptures insist that a Bishop be ‘above reproach’ (1 Tim 3:2). The secular media calls our Primate ‘controversial’. What does that say about the Traditional Anglican Communion as a whole, and that before a lost and fallen world? It makes for a pathetic witness is what it does. It is beyond me, as a Priest (in this said Communion), as to how things could have gone so far, and how it is that we have managed to get ourselves into such a position. And all the while the Gospel is being choked out by Church leaders playing Church politics. The situation is anything but ‘whimsical’ Archbishop. What it is, is a terrible indictment against you. And you should be the one to do something about it, and spare the TAC from any further embarrassment.
‘There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.’ – Brennan Manning.
‘… keep far from a false charge’ (Exodus 23:7).
‘… desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things’ (Hebrews 13:18).
Honestly, I have no idea how the Church works in America, or Australia for that matter, but here in Africa, our single greatest desire is to lead people to Christ and Christ crucified, and by our witness bring lost sinners to Him for salvation (1 Corinthians 1:23). It means being holy and blameless and above reproach in our public testimony. And if I say, now, to the world, through the medium of this lowly blog, that our mission is being compromised by what is going on in the Office of the Primate, then I say so because it is. And I will not one day be held accountable to an Omnipotent Creator Judge, because I would not speak out against the sin that is presently threatening to engulf us, and choose instead to sit ideally by, hoping that our elected leaders will do the right thing. Very souls are at stake!
In this, I have absolutely no aspirations but to implore each and every one of you who reads that which has been written here, to prayerfully look deep within, search, and ask the question: ‘whom am I serving?’ Be holy. Reflect: Am I seeking the favour of men, or of God? (Gal. 1:10).
And almost as if to make my point (above), see out today:
- TAC House of Bishops Calls for Archbishop John Hepworth’s Immediate Removal here.
- Virtue article that needs to be cross-checked here.
- Hepworth should quit now, bishops say here.
UPDATE: A press release by the TAC Bishops here.