Bendigo bishop's 'shame' at church’s abusive past

ASHAMED: Bendigo Anglican Bishop Andrew Curnow says churches have a lot to answer for over cases of abuse.
ASHAMED: Bendigo Anglican Bishop Andrew Curnow says churches have a lot to answer for over cases of abuse.

BENDIGO Bishop Andrew Curnow says he feels a “great sense of shame” about incidents of child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church and believes it faces a tough battle regaining credibility.

Bishop Curnow, head of the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo, said the actions of clergymen across the country and the response from bishops aware of abuse had severely damaged the public’s view of the church.

Such actions have been recounted at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in recent weeks.

“I felt a great sense of shame to sit there and look at the way our church behaved,” he said.

“Not only the way it behaved but what appeared to me … to be the inability of the church to deal with it – the absolute mishmash the bishops at the time made of it by not acting decidedly and appropriately.

“I don’t think (churches) are admitting as frankly as they should that we really have a lot to answer for.”

Bishop Curnow said documented cases of abuse had made it “very hard” for church leaders to speak out publicly with any kind of credibility.

“Many people could quite appropriately say ‘how dare they pontificate about same-sex marriage or pontificate about some issue the government is doing – get your own house in order’.

“Well, our own house isn’t in order. I think a lot of things are being done to put our house in order but the public view of the church is not great. 

“We’re living at a time in history where the church is going to have to work really, really hard to recover its credibility.”

Bishop Curnow said he had been aware of “complaints” about clergymen from about 1997, when he was working in Melbourne. These cases, he said, had not involved children.

“They were often to do with parishioners complaining about sexual overtures from clergy,” he said. 

“I was aware really from about 1997 onwards that things needed to be dealt with. I wasn’t aware in 1997 of issues about children.

“What I was aware of were complaints beginning to come in about clergy which meant that we needed to have a different way of dealing with them.”

Bishop Curnow said he was involved in reforms aimed at addressing issues from 2001.

“Over time, a lot of people came forward that had complaints going back a considerable time,” he said.