Sydney’s former Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen has apologised for the church’s past handling of child sex abuse allegations but says he probably would have made the same mistakes in an era when the impact of pedophilia was misunderstood by many.
Now-retired Bishop Jensen on Friday sat through the “absolutely heart-wrenching” evidence of a Sydney man who recounted four years of abuse by a leader at the Church of England Boys’ Society at St Ives Christ Church, which began when he was 10.
Simon Jacobs is in prison for his abuse of three boys, including this victim who cannot be named for legal reasons.
Bishop Jensen, who in his role as archbishop in 2002 apologised to the man, thanked him and his mother for having the strength to share their story.
“I wish to say I’m sorry they had to do this and I’m very sorry these things happened when those who should have protected this dear boy, as he was, failed to do so,” he said.
Bishop Jensen said some members of the clergy who received reports of abuse failed to act appropriately.
“There is an ethos in the church of what we may call easy forgiveness without repentance and I think that’s what was expressed back then,” he said.
“I don’t exonerate it, it was the wrong thing, but I am saying I could see myself doing something similar.”
Some of the clergy were from a generation when the impact of abuse was not understood.
“There was a belief that sexual abuse did not have the impact on a person that we now know it did,” Bishop Jensen added.
In 1987 the victim, now 49, took his complaint to the church.
The then reverend of the Pymble parish told him to let sleeping dogs lie and not proceed with any action.
“He also told me that, as a Christian, I had to forgive him,” the victim recalled.
Richard Kells was a society leader at St Ives about the time of the victim’s abuse in the early 1980s and reported his suspicions about Jacobs to the then rector.
“Try to forgive and give Simon a second chance,” Mr Kells said was the response.
“I was staggered by (the) response but felt there was nothing further I could do given his responsibilities and authority as a parish rector.”
The victim said his suffering had been wide-reaching and was ongoing.
“I live below the poverty line in subsidised rental accommodation that is very unstable and precarious,” he said.
“I feel the abuse has affected every facet of my life.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse wrapped up an eight-day public hearing in Hobart on Friday after investigating offences by Jacobs, John Elliot, Louis Daniels and Garth Hawkins (now known as Robin Goodfellow).
Each has been convicted for the sexual abuse of boys.
A fifth man, Robert Brandenburg, also part of the inquiry, died before facing court on more than 350 charges.