Diocese of Tasmania may sell churches to pay abuse victims

St. Saviour's Church in Meander, Tasmania, is one of 78 properties that could be sold by the diocese of Tasmania to fund redress for victims of abuse. Photo: Peripitus/Wikimedia Commons
Published May 30, 2018

The bishop of Tasmania has published a list of 78 parish properties that could be sold to fund redress to victims of abuse. The majority of the properties in the provisional list are churches, but it also includes rectories, rental properties and vacant land.

In a pastoral letter to the people of the diocese last month, Bishop Richard Condie revealed that the diocese is liable for around $8 million AUD (approximately £4.5 million GBP). The proposals will be debated by the diocesan Synod meeting in Launceston on Saturday, June 2.

“Redress is so important,” Condie said. “It’s a vital step in providing restorative justice, recognition and support to survivors of sexual abuse. The Prophet Isaiah teaches that God loves justice and calls us to make recompense for those who have been wronged. As people committed to God’s restoration of the world, we have an obligation to provide this.”

He added: “The only way we can raise this amount of capital is from funds held by the trustees on behalf of the diocese and parishes, through selling parish properties, and by direct parish contributions. The diocesan council believes that this is the wisest approach, and should be shared among the whole diocesan family, rather than falling in one or two areas, and is the best way to secure the ongoing viability of the diocese. It is also better for us to make a clear proactive decision, rather than waiting for others to seize our assets over which we would then have little control.”

The bishop has since issued two more pastoral letters to update the diocese. In one, he said that the diocese planned to use 25 per cent from the net proceeds to fund the redress scheme. A further 25 per cent will go into the New Ministry Development Fund, while the balance will be held in trust for future use by local parishes.

The National Redress Scheme is one of the recommendations that came out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in Australia. Although national, it requires state governments to opt-in to the scheme before non-governmental institutions, such as churches can opt in. The Tasmanian government announced May 22 that it was going to join the scheme.  Condie described the announcement as “truly a great day for survivors of child sexual abuse in Tasmania.”

Elsewhere in Australia, the upper house of the state parliament in Victoria – the Legislative Council – is still considering the scheme which was approved by the Lower House last week, on the same day that the Melbourne Diocesan Council gave its final approval for the diocese to join it. “The Anglican Church – and I personally – have apologised for our failures to survivors of child sexual abuse,” the Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said. “We have been working continuously for well over a decade to improve our response to survivors and our approach to redress, and are grateful for the work of the Victorian Inquiry and the Royal Commission.”

He said that the diocese believed that an independent and easy-to-access process for survivors, such as that proposed in the National Redress Scheme, was the right way forward. “We are committed to joining it,” he said.

The New South Wales government opted into the National Redress Scheme in March, in a move that was welcomed by the Diocese of Sydney, which said it “continues to be committed to meeting its responsibilities towards those who have suffered because of the appalling acts which have been perpetrated on vulnerable children in our care.”

In a statement, a spokesman said: “For many years, the diocese has had a redress policy offering care and assistance for survivors of child sexual abuse and payments continue to be made from that scheme. The maximum amount available from our scheme is already $150,000 [AUD, approximately £85,000] which is in line with the Prime Minister’s announcement today.

“The diocese looks forward to receiving further details of the arrangements of the scheme and working constructively with both state and federal governments on this issue.”



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