Print Version    Email to Friend
Bizarre revelation of abuse claims puts Australian Church in spotlight


ADELAIDE (SE): In rather bizarre circumstances, Monsignor Ian Dempsey from the archdiocese of Adelaide in South Australia was named by South Australian senator, Nick Xenophon, on September 13, under parliamentary privilege in Canberra, as being the mystery priest claimed by the primate of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion, Archbishop John Hepworth, to have sexually abused him some 46 years ago. 

Xenophon, who admitted he only learned about the case on the previous day, laid down the gauntlet to Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson saying that he would go public in the senate if the diocese did not name the accused and asked why Monsignor Dempsey had not been suspended during the course of the investigation.

In a statement issued on September 14, Archbishop Wilson said, “Priests are normally stood aside from their ministry when accusations of child sexual abuse are made or where there is otherwise risk posed by the priest’s continued presence.”

He also pointed to Monsignor Dempsey’s to-date unblemished record of a half-century of priesthood, during which he has served as the head chaplain in the Royal Australian Navy and received an Order of Australia for distinguished service to country and community.

In addition, Archbishop Wilson defended his vicar general, Monsignor David Cappo, saying that he has treated the case with great diligence, care and sensitivity, and had not procrastinated on the process as suggested by Xenophon and Archbishop Hepworth.

Monsignor Dempsey, who has only recently returned to his parish of Brighton after a protracted illness, has emphatically denied the charges in writing. He told the national media that, as an investigation is ongoing, he cannot comment further.

Archbishop Hepworth, a former Catholic and Anglican priest, who took his traditional group out of the Anglican Communion in 1991 to seek unification with the Catholic Church, filed complaints with the archdioceses of Adelaide and Melbourne, claiming that he had been sexually abused by three priests, one of whom was a seminarian at the time.

The other two are already dead and Archbishop Denis Hart in Melbourne has already apologised and paid the traditional Church primate A$75,000 ($600,000).

However, recently Archbishop Hepworth told the press that he was not satisfied with the progress of the investigation being conducted in Adelaide, but did not name Monsignor Dempsey as the accused.

A statement issued by Archbishop Wilson says that his diocese had been stalled in instigating an investigation, as Archbishop Hepworth said that he was not in the mental condition to face one, and permission was only given to begin proceedings in February this year.

Archbishop Wilson added that Archbishop Hepworth has still not supplied the investigation with the names of people to interview, who may be able to shed some light on the matter.

However, to date, there have been no winners in the bizarre event.

Apart from Monsignor Dempsey, the vicar general of Adelaide archdiocese, Monsignor Cappo, has also come under fire.

He was the chairperson of the state government Social Inclusion Board and recently appointed to a position in national mental health care policy-making committee by the prime minister, Julia Gillard, but has stepped down from both roles.

Although defended vigorously by state premier, Mike Rann, Monsignor Cappo said that he does not wish to compromise the work of either body.

Political commentators point to some long standing issues between Monsignor Cappo and Xenophon, which they say leaves some unanswered questions regarding the South Australian senator’s motivation.

Legal groups have questioned his use of parliamentary privilege, with the Australian Civil Liberties Association criticising Xenophon for abusing the privilege.

“Those privileges are intended to protect lawmakers while they discuss legislative issues. Since the Hepworth allegations have no bearing on legislation, the senator’s invocation of his privilege was the height of irresponsibility,” the association says in a statement.

If Xenophon is not abusing his privilege in making his revelation, it begs the question, what is he protecting himself from?


More from this section