STATEMENT BY ARCHBISHOP PHILIP WILSON
REGARDING THE ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE MADE BY ARCHBISHOP JOHN HEPWORTH
I wish to begin my statement by reaffirming my longstanding commitment to dealing with allegations of abuse within the Church with the utmost seriousness and with proper process.
My years as a bishop of the Church have been marked by my determination to always deal with allegations of abuse with compassion, justice and fairness, being highly sensitive to the needs of victims and applying all the rules of natural justice for those accused.
I stand on my record as a bishop in the way I have responded to issues of abuse in the Church.
Regarding Archbishop Hepworth, let me say that from the moment he came to present his allegations of abuse to the Church he has been responded to with the utmost care and sensitivity.
Monsignor Cappo who acts on my behalf has met with Archbishop Hepworth on multiple occasions since 2007. In fact at least 8 meetings have been held, all of lengthy duration.
Monsignor Cappo gave me a full briefing of each meeting, immediately following his interviews with Archbishop Hepworth.
On my behalf Monsignor Cappo urged Archbishop Hepworth, at the end of each meeting, to give his permission to proceed with an investigation in the allegations. On each occasion Archbishop Hepworth declined, indicating that he was not in a proper emotional state to deal with an investigation.
Sensitive as we must be to the needs of complainants, we adhered to his request. He was also informed that if he was alleging any form of abuse, including rape, that this is a criminal allegation and he should go to the police.
He has consistently declined to do so but I add that we have not been critical of him about this. We understand only too well the difficulty associated with making these types of decisions.
It was not until we received a letter from him in late February 2011 that Archbishop Hepworth indicated that he was ready for a process to commence and he thereby gave permission for an investigation to proceed.
I then authorized an investigation to commence immediately and diocesan solicitors (who were already involved) have assisted in that process.
This process is well under way and we are currently waiting to speak with the priest accused, to obtain his detailed response to the allegations. He has already categorically denied the allegations.
To claim that the Archdiocese of Adelaide has not responded properly to this allegation or has delayed or mishandled this complaint by Archbishop Hepworth is totally wrong and I completely reject that assertion as without foundation.
On the contrary, we have shown Archbishop Hepworth every courtesy, sensitivity and care in the process. I am fully supportive of the manner in which Monsignor Cappo has given priority to this matter and the sensitive way in which he has dealt with it.
In fact, he would often talk to me about the need to initiate further contact with Archbishop Hepworth to ensure that a proper dialogue was occurring with him and he has shown great compassion for Archbishop Hepworth. Archbishop Hepworth himself has acknowledged as much on multiple occasions.
In terms of the process, I would expect that in the next 2-3 months all the interviewing of people would have taken place.
However, this is subject only to our being furnished with a list of other persons who we have asked Archbishop Hepworth to inform us might be in a position to assist with our investigations. To date we have not received such a list from him.
It is my intention to then have Mr Michael Abbott QC to become involved in the process and assess all the evidence and documentation and to give me his opinion in law, of the allegation and the response by the priest concerned.
The question has been asked as to why I have not stood the priest aside from his ministry during this investigation. My answer is very clear. Priests are normally stood aside from their ministry when accusations of child sexual abuse are made or where there is otherwise any risk posed by that priest’s continued ministry.
In such cases this decision is clear and made as a matter of course. In this case, however, we are not talking about child sexual abuse. Despite the unfortunate suggestions made to the contrary in the past few days, the allegations refer to when Archbishop Hepworth was in his 20s.
That is over forty years ago. And considering the presumption of innocence and the good standing of the priest under investigation, I would not stand a priest down in these circumstances.
I have obtained advice about this, and in trying to balance the interests of all parties concerned, having regard to how old the allegations are, I have concluded it is not necessary for the priest to be stood down.
I am deeply distressed that Senator Xenophon has named the priest in Parliament.
There was no need for him to do so, especially when this would appear not to have been Archbishop Hepworth’s wish. There have never been any suggestion of danger to people in the parish having the priest present, and the investigation is well underway.
The damage to the priest’s reputation is obvious and severe and – in my opinion – this serves to undermine the presumption of innocence which all of us are entitled to enjoy.
Aside from that the distress to the parish is enormous. What has happened is unfair and unjust.
I was shocked that the Senator was not even prepared to sit down and talk to our legal advisers about the matter when the invitation was extended to him. Aside from anything else, I think it is also important to remember that these matters cannot but have had a significant impact on Archbishop Hepworth himself.
However, my concern now is to ensure the investigation continues, that it remains transparent and independent and that it is brought to a speedy conclusion in a normal and appropriate way.
That is what occurred to date and I pray that the events of the past few days will not interfere with that process.
Archbishop Hepworth has also spoken to Monsignor Cappo at length about the Traditional Anglican Communion and possibilities for its future relationship with the Catholic Church.
I have been resolute in taking those issues to the appropriate authorities in Rome and those discussions are ongoing.
I am very mindful of Archbishop Hepworth’s desire to reconcile with the Catholic Church.
From my perspective, from Monsignor Cappo’s perspective and in accordance with our legal advice, we have given Archbishop Hepworth’s allegations priority.
I was very relieved when Archbishop Hepworth finally able to consider he was ready to agree to the process beginning in February of this year.
I again repeat, to accuse me and the Archdiocese of not handling this matter with priority and proper process is wrong and I reject such comments.
I conclude by saying that I would have preferred that there was no need for me to speak today about such personal and complex matters, but in the light of all of the mis-statement surrounding the issue, I considered fairness to those involved in the process required me to make these things clear.
Having said this, I trust it is now clear why I would not be in any position to make any further statement concerning the issue until the investigation is completed. Thank you.