Australian archbishop says “I was abused” – SNAP responds

Our hearts go out to Archbishop Hepworth. We sympathize with his suffering and we applaud his courage.

All abuse is horrific. Abuse by religious authority figures is especially heinous. And abuse by church officials who can potentially derail the church career of a devout young seminarian or priest is even more heinous.

We cringed when we saw the archbishop use the phrase "my involvement” with one of his predators. “Involvement,” to some, can imply some degree of consent. There was no consent here. The archbishop has no reason to feel guilt. He was victimized by powerful church figures. He deserves compassion, not condemnation.

We hope others who saw, suspected or suffered crimes or misdeeds by these abusive clerics will find the strength to speak up, expose wrongdoing, protect others and start healing.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our websites are and

Contact - David Clohessy (+1-314-566-9790 cell,, Steven Spaner (, Barbara Blaine (+1-312-399-4747,, Peter Isely (+1-414-429-7259,, Barbara Dorris (+1-314-862-7688 home, +1-314-503-0003 cell,

Abused Archbishop John Hepworth ready to forgive

EXCLUSIVE Tess Livingstone From: The Australian - September 10, 2011 12:00AM

AN Australian archbishop leading a breakaway Anglican faction that wants to reunite with Rome has revealed that he fled the Catholic priesthood after experiencing systematic sexual abuse over more than a decade.

Archbishop John Hepworth, the primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a 400,000-member Anglican breakaway group seeking reconciliation with the Vatican, broke decades of silence after securing an apology from the Catholic church and an offer of $75,000 compensation.

The revelation of his private pain, known until today only to family, a few close friends and senior church leaders, adds an extraordinary personal twist to the creation of Anglican ordinariates that have opened the way for the largest mass defection to the Catholic Church since the Reformation.

Despite what he suffered over a 12-year period from 1960 at the hands of two priests and a fellow seminary student who went on to be ordained, Archbishop Hepworth said he was determined to continue his mission to bring the churches together.

"I fled in fear but I never wanted to leave," he said of his decision to depart the church in 1974, haunted by the abuse while a seminarian and junior priest. "The church is full of sinners . . . but it is God's gift to the human race through Jesus Christ . . . I have never lost the sense of vocation of being a priest."

Adelaide-based Archbishop Hepworth, 67, is believed to be the most senior church figure in the world to reveal he was a victim of clerical sex abuse.

He says he was raped repeatedly. Two of his accused abusers are dead; the third, a senior Catholic priest, runs a parish in South Australia.

He reported the abuse to the Archdiocese of Adelaide more than four years ago but the church has not stood the priest down.

Contacted by The Weekend Australian yesterday, the priest laughed and said: "I can't discuss matters that are confidential." Asked if he had read Archbishop Hepworth's allegations against him, he giggled and said: "Good try but I won't say anything."

Documents obtained by The Weekend Australian show Archbishop Hepworth's ordeal began in 1960 when he was 15 and newly enrolled at Adelaide's St Francis Xavier Seminary.

The matter took another twist years later when one of Archbishop Hepworth's assailants tried to use the Seal of the Confessional to silence him, by confessing the abuse to him.

Despite the experience, Archbishop Hepworth was ordained a priest and stayed with the Catholic Church until 1972, when he fled to Britain and drove trucks for Boots chemists. He became an Anglican, and then a priest in the Anglican fold, rising to be world primate of the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion.

In an attitude of extraordinary forgiveness and atonement, his prime concern, set out in a letter to Archbishop Wilson in November 2008, was that his relationship with the Catholic Church be healed before he died.

"I do not seek retribution," he wrote but he felt "deeply cheated of a priestly life that I have been exercising as it were by subterfuge, outside the communion of the Catholic Church".

In contrast to Adelaide's tardiness, the Archdiocese of Melbourne's Independent Commissioner, Peter O'Callaghan QC, has processed and resolved Archbishop Hepworth's complaint against one of the three priests, the late Ronald Pickering of Melbourne, in just over 12 months and left Archbishop Hepworth free to speak openly about it.

Mr O'Callaghan also accepted that Archbishop Hepworth suffered "many other instances of sexual abuse by members of the clergy in South Australia".

Archbishop Hepworth praised the independent Melbourne process, which was set up by Cardinal George Pell when he was archbishop of Melbourne, for showing him "a care that was beyond anything I thought possible".

In an apology to Archbishop Hepworth dated August 26, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart wrote: "We cannot change what has happened . . . You may never be rid of the memories or the hurt . . . On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Ronald Pickering."

The consultant psychiatrist's report provided to the Melbourne Archdiocese's Independent Commissioner for Sexual Abuse shows Pickering's abuse was coupled with gruesome blasphemy about the Virgin Mary.

Archbishop Hepworth, who prays with the rosary daily and has a strong Marian devotion, told the psychiatrist working for the inquiry: "When I see a statue of Our Lady, that whole thing comes back and I can't get rid of it."

Nor can he get rid of the panic attacks, nightmares, sleeplessness, dizziness, feelings of terror when the doorbell rings and spontaneous tears that have haunted him for half a century. At one point he was brought close to suicide - he drove towards the graveside of one of his abusers, intending to take his own life there, but turned back.

He remains angry and frustrated that his complaint has not received attention in Adelaide. In 2007, he and Lay Canon Cheryl Woodman, chairwoman of the TAC professional standards committee, met the Vicar-General of the Adelaide Archdiocese, Monsignor David Cappo, who is the retiring Social Inclusion Commissioner to Premier Mike Rann and incoming chairman of Julia Gillard's new Mental Health Commission.

Archbishop Hepworth says he named his initial abuser in the Adelaide seminary as the late John Stockdale, who worked as a priest in Bendigo. Stockdale died on December 31, 1995, reportedly in a sex cubicle at Club 80, a "men-only" club in Collingwood, Melbourne.

Archbishop Hepworth further complained to the Adelaide archdiocese about being violently raped by a priest on a beach at a seaside town and at other centres when he was a junior priest.

He also complained about that priest's unseemly behaviour at the funeral of a relative.

Earlier this year, frustrated by the lack of progress and again accompanied by Lay Canon Woodman, he spoke to Monsignor Cappo. They were told inquiries in Adelaide were still at a "preliminary stage" because he had not lodged a "formal" complaint.

He has since done so, although he had always regarded the highly detailed six-page statement he provided in March 2008 as a formal complaint.

It was followed up with several other detailed statements.

He would not say which of his three abusers tried to use the confessional to gag him, or when it happened. "The Seal of the Confessional is the last barrier, never to be broken," he said.

Neither Monsignor Cappo nor the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, responded to a series of written questions put to them yesterday by this newspaper.

Documents provided to the Melbourne inquiry and Adelaide Archdiocese claim Archbishop Hepworth's ordeal of abuse, trauma and blackmail began a month after he entered the seminary. Other students, and later a member of senior staff, threatened him with expulsion if he spoke out.

Dozens of American seminarians who found themselves in similar positions and walked out found themselves barred from other seminaries and had to wait decades to be ordained, if ever.

"I felt trapped," Archbishop Hepworth recalled this week.

"My sister soon noticed that I looked 'thin and haunted' but I kept quiet."

The documents show he tried to discuss the problem with a senior member of the seminary, who threatened that any mention of sexual experiences could disqualify him from ordination. Adelaide's then-auxiliary bishop Philip Kennedy, who has since died, later warned him that if any of his friends were implicated in complaints, he would "destroy" him.

When Father Hepworth, as a young priest, finally confronted the former Archbishop of Adelaide, James Gleeson, who has since died, he was told: "If you have come here to say that, you can go now." He did - he left for Britain.

After returning to Australia, he served as an Anglican priest in Ballarat and Adelaide before leaving the Anglican church in 1992 to join the newly formed TAC. He was elected its world primate in 2002. Officially, he is excommunicated from Catholicism under Canon Law for being consecrated a TAC bishop in 1996.

John Hepworth was the oldest of five children and his father, a soldier, served as a Rat of Tobruk, in Japan and Korea. His mother, a World War II army nurse, cared for the wounded from the epic desert war battle of El Alamein. He grew up on a war service estate in Adelaide and is now married with three children.

As a child and teenager, he only ever wanted to be a Catholic priest but as his statement to Monsignor Cappo in March 2008 sets out, his nightmare began at the minor seminary where he completed Years 11 and 12 and where a prefect took him to the room of John Stockdale. The older seminarian plied him with wine, cheese and fruit and the prefect left, leaving him alone with "Stoker". Stockdale warned he could be expelled for being there and his touches quickly became sexual before "he began painful and vigorous sex", Archbishop Hepworth recounted in a statement to the Adelaide Archdiocese on March 25, 2008.

He said he went to bed that night confused and in pain after the violent anal rape. By his account, he wondered if what had happened was sinful and whether he should receive communion the next morning and confess it.

He was warned by the prefect next day that he would be expelled if he mentioned the encounter. The prefect later befriended Hepworth's father, who used to tell his son, "Stick with (the prefect) . . . and you'll be OK".

The pattern of abuse was to be repeated at monthly intervals for about two years until the prefect who had introduced him to Stockdale "passed him on" to a Melbourne priest visiting Adelaide, Ronald Pickering.

"He expected and forcefully demanded sex," Archbishop Hepworth recalled in the same statement. The encounters continued, in Adelaide, Melbourne and in Oxford during a liturgy conference to which he was sent by his then-archbishop.

Working in several Adelaide parishes - Goodwood, Colonel Light Gardens and Glenelg - after ordination, Archbishop Hepworth recalled in his statement how he "had learned some resistance" in rebutting the homosexual approaches of Pickering and others and began studying at Flinders University, a process he found "liberating". He holds several degrees.

But as a young priest, he was invited to the beach by two priests. According to Archbishop Hepworth's statements, after walking on the beach one night, one of the priests "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 and forced sex."

The statement recalled that the foray to the beach had been "my conscious last attempt to 'belong' among the diocesan clergy". It was also the turning point that made him determined to escape.

"I have had a vivid memory of that event, and of the guilt the next day as I drove back to Adelaide," Hepworth said.

"By then, 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."

His fear of prosecution under the law, he said, prevented him going to the police.

"I want to state quite clearly that I never fully consented to sexual activity with (the priest still working in Adelaide)."

Archbishop Hepworth said that he left the priesthood "out of fear of disclosure, out of a fear of the blackmail threats made in the case of Pickering and Stockdale, and out of a desire to be accepted and to have friends".

"I remain with a strong sense of guilt over my involvement with him, even after nearly 40 years, and even though I know intellectually that I was a victim of someone more powerful than me," he said.

He also realised he felt "deeply repulsed" by homosexual sex and was more fearful of other men than anything else.

Despite this, Archbishop Hepworth alleges that the priest sexually assaulted him up to seven more times. He said he felt "so weakened physically and emotionally" that he did not resist.

For all his suffering, Archbishop Hepworth retains a passionate love for the church, with which he is determined to be reconciled in full sacramental communion.

In his March 2008 statement, he wrote: "Perhaps I have been too driven in my search for redemption, for acceptance by a church that I did not know how to approach. I ran away from that church, but I have never lost my love for it."

Despite the fact that he has been married, divorced and remarried and has three children, he also wrote: "Perhaps it is the only real love that I have ever known, and it is a love distorted and beyond my reach over all of my adult life."

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