Archbishop resigns over sex abuse furore

The Weekend Australian/June 12, 2004
By Jeremy Roberts

After two weeks of pressure, the Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide Ian George resigned yesterday acknowledging it had been "difficult" for him to act as a force for unity after an inquiry denounced his handling of child sex abuse by members of the church.

The resignation ends a torrid fortnight for the Anglican Church in Adelaide that culminated in a demand by the diocese's peak governing body that Dr George quit by 2pm yesterday or lose its support.

Since the tabling of the independent report in parliament 12 days ago, the Archbishop had refused to step aside, claiming the support of the 35-member council as he piloted reforms towards the upcoming Adelaide Synod on June 19. He was due to retire in August.

The council's move followed a call by South Australian acting Premier Kevin Foley on Wednesday for Dr George to resign, and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's asking that he consider his position in the interests of church unity. By yesterday he acknowledged his leadership was failing in the face of the threat of church disunity and rising public opprobrium.

"One of the vital roles of a bishop is to be a focus of unity within the church and of the church to the general community," Dr George said in a statement. "It is clear, for a complex of reasons, that it is difficult for me to act in that capacity in the diocese of Adelaide at this stage."

Archdeacon John Collas, who now assumes the administration of the diocese until a new archbishop commences his duties next year, said "recent events had deeply disturbed the Anglican Church in this diocese".

Abuse within the church diocese has been traced back to the early 1960s but Dr George has acknowledged he failed to reach out to warn police about numerous perpetrators within the clergy and church schools or show public compassion for many victims.

This failure was exposed midway through last year when two members of the clergy, Reverend Andrew King and Reverend Don Owers, broke years of silence to reveal widespread abuse in the church. This forced Dr George to act and order an independent inquiry into some 200 alleged cases of child sexual abuse by clergy and Anglican employees.

In perhaps the most damaging revelation for Dr George, the inquiry revealed he met with disgraced Anglican chaplain John Mountford after he admitted sexually assaulting a boy at exclusive boys school St Peter's College in June 1992.

Mountford left the country on the same day, at the insistence of an "authority" within the church or school, and neither Dr George nor St Peter's College administration moved to uncover Mountford's alleged abuse of two other students which has since emerged.

When the report was originally released Dr George apologised for the "systemic failure" and denied any requirement for him to resign, adding "No one has asked me to."

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