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Selling churches brings no joy but is the right thing to do

Two days before I began as Bishop of Tasmania I invited a survivor of sexual abuse to meet me to tell his story. In an organisation where sexual abuse of children had regrettably been a part of the history, I needed to hear an insider’s perspective.

Since then I have met with other survivors, done much reading, and thought long about their situation. I have been deeply moved by the life-long damage done to such vulnerable children, by people who were supposed to be “pillars of trust” in their communities.

Our compassion for survivors of sexual abuse in our organisation is the driver for the costly path the Anglican church has embarked upon. Most survivors carry life-long scars, many have trouble in relationships and employment, and have spent much on counselling.

The provision of redress provides a measure of restorative justice to these survivors, as well as recognition and support. We believe providing redress is the right thing to do.

The Anglican Church in Tasmania is delighted that the Tasmanian Government yesterday announced its intention to join the National Redress Scheme. It is truly a great day for survivors in Tasmania. It is our intention to be a participating institution in this scheme.

After receiving estimates from actuaries, who specialise in child sexual abuse claims, that our liability is in the order of $8 million, the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania is proposing how to raise these funds.

After considering various alternatives, our proposal settled on both the principles of sharing the responsibility across the Diocese and at the same time making sure that the good work of the church can continue into the future.

Our proposal is to divert 25% of Diocesan and Parish investment funds and 25% of the net proceeds of sale of property to a Redress Fund.

The reason why only 25% of funds raised from new property sales is going to redress, is so that we can continue the ministry activities of the church, where property is sold.

In each sale 25% goes to Redress, 25% to the New Ministry Development Fund (split 10% to ministry in the Diocese and 15% to the Parish for a new initiative), with 50% remaining in the Parish to fund ministry. In total 65% of the funds can remain in local hands.

We are hoping Parishes will think of creative ways to finance their ministry with these funds. The New Ministry Development Fund supports these initiatives at a local level.

An alternative was to sell fewer buildings and divert a higher proportion of the sale price to redress. This would have completely removed the Anglican presence and programs in those areas. We did not think this was a wise strategy.

The list of properties proposed for sale includes those that are currently surplus to use (vacant land and closed churches) and those that do not have a sustainable model of ministry.

An example is St Andrew’s Evandale. The Sunday congregation has reduced to fewer than five people. The Parish has not been able to pay a minister for many years, and we struggle to find a retired Priest to hold a service once a month. This is not sustainable.

Having some funds (up to 65% of the proceeds from sale) will enable the small congregation of faithful people, to continue to provide their ministry of care and compassion to the town of Evandale. They may even have seed funds for a new venture in the future.

Some have suggested that redress is a ruse for selling off assets. This is not true. Our only motive is to raise funds for redress.

Some Parishes, where more than one building is proposed for sale, have suggested they sell one building and direct all the proceeds to redress, so that they can keep the other buildings. The Diocesan Council will consider such a proposal. If we were intent on selling off assets, then we would not consider it.

Understandably there is community concern about the sale of cemeteries. All cemeteries in the state are governed by the Burial and Cremation Act 2002. This act provides that the (new) owner of the cemetery is a “cemetery manager” who must maintain and provide access to the cemetery and honour exclusive rights of burial (for pre-purchased graves).

I recently met with Minister Gutwein and his staff to confirm these arrangements. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the government as it responds to community concerns.

As Bishop I am deeply sad about the situation we face. I do not want to close or sell any churches in Tasmania and it brings me no joy. But I am compelled by compassion for survivors of abuse. We must raise $8 million for redress, and we have to do this through realisation of our assets.

This plan will be debated by our Synod (meeting of all Parish representatives) in June. If the Synod agrees to it, Parishes will have an opportunity to apply to have their properties excluded from sale.

We invite members of the community to make submissions to us in writing by 1 September 2018.

The church’s governing body (Diocesan Council) will make final decisions about the property sales in December 2018.

For more information please visit our FAQ page

https://anglicantas.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Frequently-asked-questions-Redress-Proposal-1.pdf

 

 

The Right Revd Dr Richard Condie

Bishop of Tasmania

Wednesday May 23, 2018 (The Mercury)

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