Full disclosure finally

In sharing her story before a royal commission, sex abuse survivor Beth Heinrich hopes to find freedom from the past. Amanda Gearing reports.

For the better part of two decades, Anglican church leaders "passed by on the other side of the road" when child sexual abuse survivor Beth Heinrich appealed to them for justice.

But one bishop from their flock will stand by her side today. His presence, Heinrich says, will give her the strength to tell her whole story, for the first time, to a private session of the Royal Commission into Institu­tional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne.

Geelong-based Bishop Peter Danaher expects there will be opposition to his supportive stance from within the church, but he knows it is the right thing to do.

"There will be people who will be absolutely horrified that I have done this," he said. "I believe in my own conscience that I need to be there with Beth."

Rather than emotional scars, Hein­rich still has open wounds from the abuse in the 1950s that, she says, des­troyed her career prospects and left her alienated from her children.

Indeed Heinrich, who now lives in rural Victoria, says she wears a mouth guard almost continuously, to prevent the tension in her jaw from destroying her teeth. She attributes this tension to anger over the abuse, plus the dam­age done by church authorities when she disclosed the abuse in 1995.

Heinrich's victimisation by a priest and later bishop, Donald Shearman, first came to public attention in 2002, when then governor-general Peter Hollingworth told the ABC's Australi­an Story that the relationship - between a young priest and a teenage girl - was "not sex abuse".

"There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that, quite the contrary," he said. "My information is that it was rather the other way round."

Hollingworth resigned from his vice-regal office in 2003, after the find­ings of an independent Anglican in­quiry into the Brisbane diocese were released.

Also after the inquiry, the diocese charged Shearman under canon law with maintaining a sexual relationship with a child when he was warden of a student hostel and assistant priest in the New South Wales town of Forbes. In 2004 he was found guilty and deposed from holy orders.

Although Heinrich was the key wit­ness in the case to remove Shearman from the priesthood, the unresolved process left her feeling incomplete. Slabs of her statement were redacted by church lawyers. She received no apology from the offender; and no compensation for the offences.

"They used me and chucked me out," she says.

It is chiefly for this reason that she is so grateful for the opportunity to speak at today's hearing. She wants to tell her story without censorship.

A 300-page dossier of 70 documents prepared by Monash University's Ad­junct Professor Chris Goddard will set out the ebb and flow of her battle for justice, which has had minor victories along the way. Although the Brisbane diocese did not pay Heinrich compens­ation, in 2005 the Bathurst diocese (which includes the parish of Forbes where the child sexual offences oc­curred) paid her $100,000.

Heinrich says the amount was inad­equate considering the offences began when she was a child in Shearman's care and that she suffered two further episodes of abuse as an adult when Shearman was in a pastoral position and committed sexual misconduct in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Heinrich says that it was the church's removal of slabs of her evid­ence (ostensibly to protect Shear­man's wife from further hurt) that has most revented her from full recovery. It was, she says, his cruel comments about his wife that initially made the teenage Heinrich feel sympathy for Shearman and his need for a young companion.

Her own childhood on her parents' wheat and sheep property in central New South Wales had been secure and happy. At 14 her parents had to send her to Forbes to attend secondary school. There she lived at St John's hostel, where the Reverend Donald Shearman and his wife Fay were the warden and matron in charge of 40 teenage boys and girls.

Shearman's fondness for Beth was obvious. He danced with her at socials and gave her gifts of chocolate, money and alcohol - a prayer book, a pearl necklace and a gold cross.

In her second and third years at the hostel, he had sex with her, she says, in the Shearmans' private quarters on his fox skin rug on the floor and in their marital bed. To convince her she was old enough to have sex, he told her their relationship was like Romeo and Juliet.

The sexual relationship continued for more than 18 months until one day when Shearman summarily expelled Beth from the hostel, summoning her father
to take her home in disgrace, allegedly for being promiscuous with boys - a claim Beth emphatically denies.

Once home on her parents' prop­erty, she received a letter from Shear­man asking her to be patient and keep busy, as it would take some time for him to "work things out" so they could be married and work together for God.

When that did not happen, a broken­-hearted Beth married a local farmer and had five children. She says her husband was a threatening alcoholic. Two decades passed, and Heinrich sunk into depression, believing God was punishing her. Eventually she asked Shearman to help her and her children to escape from the marriage. By then a bishop, Shearman rekindled a sexual relationship with her.

"My darling Beth," his many hand­written love letters begin. They speak of his yearning for her, retell the pedes­trian details of his life and diocesan duties, and share his plans for them to serve God together as a married couple.

Leading a double life, the bishop paid for a unit for Heinrich in Ballina, at the northern extent of his diocese of Grafton, giving him an excuse to travel often to the farthest-flung parish. He sent her the fox skin rug. At the same time he was recognised by the Queen, who invited him to London to be induc­ted as an OBE at Buckingham Palace.

While in England, the surreptitious sexual relationship came unstuck. Fay Shearman collected the mail one day, read a letter from Heinrich, and wrote a message to her husband on the front of the envelope: "Opened this by mis­take, darling - am very disturbed by it - feel quite sick. I love you too. Fay."

That night Shearman wrote to Hein­rich: "I feel so guilty, as of course I am. I doubt that she [Fay] will be able to keep this to herself and this thing I dreaded most of all is now about a certainty. That is that I should bring scandal on the church and allow the devil to take advantage of my selfish­ness and my wrong doing."

The next day he wrote again, ac­knowledging the hypocrisy of his beha­viour: "I have erred - sinned - against God - against you - against Fay and my family and against the church of which I am an apostle and therefore a pro­tector of its faith and order and moral­ity. I have failed you all and for that I am truly, truly sorry."

Still, Shearman continued writing to Heinrich, and rekindled the adulter­ous relationship again in the early 1980s, before leaving his wife and mov­ing to Wagga Wagga to live with her.

When Grafton diocese staff tracked him down, the dean (now Bishop) Ric­hard Hurford chartered a plane to Wagga Wagga, collected the bishop and flew with him back to Grafton.

In the 1990s, Heinrich asked Shear­man for help when her son was dying of leukaemia. He started writing again, and sent her things for the home he planned for them to share. After almost 40 years of believing his pledge to marry her, Heinrich's faith in his promises finally gave out. She confron­ted him by phone in 1994, when he finally told her, "I'm too old for you now".

Heinrich reasoned, at last, that he had always been too old for her. He had used his spiritual power and authority as a priest and hostel warden to betray her innocence - and to hold her captive for most of her life. She put pen to paper in 1995, writing to his superior in the Brisbane diocese, the then archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth, setting out Shearman's offences against her as a child and his abuse of her over subsequent decades.

She wanted Shearman to admit he had lied to her parents in 1956, when he accused her of promiscuity - falsely blackening her name and destroying her aspirations of attending university and becoming a teacher.

Shearman refused to sign the apology Heinrich drafted. Archbishop Hollingworth then wrote to her saying the two accounts of the abuse had "a very wide discrepancy", and that Shearman's ministry was "much valued. Hollingworth warned her not to sue the "struggling" dioceses of Bathurst and Grafton, and refused to remove Shearman from officiating at church services.

"He called me a liar," Heinrich says simply.

Bishop Danaher says church hier­archies that have placed clergy above other people - "on such a high pedes­tal" - have made it difficult for victims to name clerical offenders. Of Hollingworth's letter, his appraisal is scathing.

"The reply he gave was quite wrong. That was his downfall," Danaher said. "I think the way he dealt with it was abominable."

The letter was indeed a blow to Heinrich. She recoiled from the church. She finally reported the early sexual abuse to NSW police in 1996, but Shearman could not be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations on sexual crimes in the 1950s.

"I believe God thinks with absolute pain about what has been happening in the church. God weeps. God's heart is broken." - Bishop Peter Danaher

It was not until 2001 that Heinrich wrote again, this time to several arch­bishops and a dozen bishops around the country. She felt unheard, but in 2002 a media storm erupted over widespread child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church. Heinrich broke her silence in public, revealing that Hollingworth, by then governor-general, had heard a bishop admit to sex offences with a child and had al­lowed him to continue preaching.

The case was one of several ex­amined by an independent Anglican Board of Inquiry into the Brisbane dio­cese. Shearman was defrocked.

But still Heinrich could not find peace, not without the hearing to which she was entitled under the Bris­bane diocese's sexual abuse complaint protocol, a hearing she was repeatedly denied by the church.

Heinrich hopes publicity about her appearance at the royal commis­sion will inspire others who have been treated similarly to come for­ward and tell their story now.

"I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been mistreated," she says. "There are other people who have run away. Not everyone is as strong as I am."

Fairfax Media sought comment from Donald Shearman, who lives at a north Brisbane beachside retirement resort in Deception Bay. He declined to be interviewed. However, speaking through an intermediary, Shearman, now 88, has agreed to Heinrich's re­quest for a face-to-face apology. No date or location has yet been arranged.

As he steps into the royal commis­sion today, Danaher is mindful of the damage done to the church by its treatment of abuse victims.

"I believe God thinks with absolute pain about what has been happening in the church. God weeps," he said. "God's heart is broken."

Yet in a sign of positive institutional change, Danaher has won the endorse­ment of Australia's Anglican Primate, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier, who told Fairfax Media he was "very pleased that an Anglican bishop could offer help and comfort to a victim of another Anglican bishop".

After 19 years of struggling for justice, Heinrich is simply happy that the royal commission will hear her story.

"It's marvellous," she says. "I want the royal commission to know what Shearman said and did. I want them to know what the church did. I will have the satisfaction that my evidence will not be censored. And that they will believe me.

"I won't personally gain anything by doing this, but I feel a duty to help the royal commission to understand the insidious nature of abuse."

From: http://www.smh.com.au/national/church-sex-abuse-survivor-beth-heinrich-a...