Statement from the Moderator about recent media coverage

The following statement is from the Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford, in regards to the recent media coverage on one of our congregations.

At the start of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013, the Uniting Church gave the following commitment.

“We will not hide from the truth, however painful that may be, and we will seek, with compassion and humility, to address whatever issues and challenges may emerge for us.”

Recent media coverage has highlighted an instance of significant failure in the way our Synod has managed a convicted sex offender who was attending one of our congregations. In the spirit of our Church’s longstanding commitment I want to put on the public record the facts and extend an apology, particularly to survivors, for the way we have handled this matter.

Last year, a man who was attending a Uniting Church congregation was convicted and jailed for historical child sex offences. These offences were committed while he was holding an ordained role in another denomination. Despite monitoring being in place, it is clear that this person was allowed to engage with our congregation in a way that was inappropriate. In 2016 he gave an address to the congregation which was recorded and uploaded to a video sharing platform.

This was a grave error of judgement.

As a result, one of the people he had previously abused suffered distress when she became aware of the video and the status accorded to her abuser within this congregation. We are also now aware that there are other survivors who he had abused who might also be distressed. For these errors and our failure to live up to our solemn commitments, on behalf of the Synod and the leaders of the congregation involved, I am deeply sorry.

Uniting Church leaders talk together about being survivor-focused and trauma-informed in our care for people who have experienced abuse, wherever that abuse may have happened. But words and policies need to be matched by our actions. This person will not be permitted to return to any Uniting Church congregations in NSW or the ACT once he is released from prison. Our Synod is also writing to other Synods and other Australian churches to ensure they are aware of this person and his offences.

Training on identifying grooming behaviours has been carried out for the Church Council where this happened. This training is currently being rolled out across the Synod. Please ensure that all office-holders in your congregation take the Safe Church education and grooming awareness opportunities that we regularly provide:

  1. Directly with our Synod Safe Church Unit using safechurch@nswact.uca.org.au or
  2. You can raise any issues using our independent hotline and online platform, details of which can be found at https://nswact.uca.org.au/speak-out-in-confidence/.

Rev. Simon Hansford.

Moderator of the Synod of NSW and ACT in the Uniting Church in Australia.