A former Wagga woman who was sexually abused by a former Bishop of Grafton for 40 years, says an official apology from the diocese has left her feeling stronger and able to manage her pain.
Beth Heinrich sat in the congregation at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral on Sunday morning to hear the Bishop of Grafton, the Very Reverend Sarah Macneil apologise for the “reprehensible” conduct of her predecessor Donald Shearman.
Shearman was defrocked in 2004 when a church inquiry and tribunal uncovered a sex scandal involving him and Ms Heinrich going back to the mid-1950s.
Those same findings also led to the resignation of the Governor-General of Australia, Peter Hollingworth for his efforts in attempting to cover up the scandal.
Ms Heinrich hoped her example would encourage others to seek justice.
“I hope it’s an example to other people of what they can do to make themselves feel better by seeing what I’ve been able to accomplish,” she said.
“I don’t know whether it’s the finish for me, but I know I’m stronger now.
Ms Heinrich described the effect of the bishop’s apology “mind blowing.”
“It will help by making me stronger to bear the pain every day,” Ms Heinrich said.
“The pain doesn’t go away. I’m just stronger so I can pretend easier.”
Ms Heinrich said she is not finished with the Anglican Church yet as she has set her sights on the Diocese of Brisbane, where then Archbishop Peter Hollingworth presided in 1995 when she set about getting justice.
She said Hollingworth dismissed her claims and supported Shearman, sending her on a five-year spiral of depression.
“He couldn’t even make time to see me after I had driven 21 hours to meet with him,” she said.
Ms Heinrich said she had written to the diocese six months ago about her situation, but had not received a reply from them.
Words of comfort
The Bishop of Grafton Sarah Macneil has described her apology to a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a predecessor as an “attempt to right an ancient wrong”.
Rev Macneil apologised to Beth Heinrich, during her sermon at the 8am service in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday.
The Bishop of Grafton from 1975 to 1983, Donald Shearman, began abusing Ms Heinrich as a teenager in the 1950s and maintained that abuse for another 40 years. Shearman and his wife, Fay, were wardens of St John’s Hostel in Forbes
The church has acknowledged Ms Heinrich was a victim of abuse and deposed Shearman from holy orders in 2004.
Bishop Sarah acknowledged that Ms Heinrich had been an innocent party who had been enticed into a relationship by an adult man who had a duty of care towards her and was in a position of power over her.
“Mr Shearman’s behaviour was utterly reprehensible and has had enormous consequences in Ms Heinrich’s life,” Bishop Sarah said.
“At the time the abuse was revealed there were some people who blamed Ms Heinrich.
“So often it is the victims who are blamed and, unfortunately, this has happened in this case too. This is completely unacceptable.
“I would like here, publicly, on behalf of the Diocese, to apologise to Ms Heinrich for the distress that comments of blame have caused her.
“I apologise for the length of time it has taken the Diocese to acknowledge that she was a victim in this matter.
“It seemed to her that for many, many years no one in the Diocesan leadership wanted to hear her side of the story. I apologise to her also for that failure.”