One man’s life, and how the church he loved let him down

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The Sydney Morning Herald

September 17, 2011

Martin Daly 

Bitter memories: Adelaide Archbishop John Hepworth.

Bitter memories: Adelaide Archbishop John Hepworth. Photo: David Mariuz

THERE have been few certainties in the complex and troubled world of John Hepworth. His childhood was seared by poverty, loneliness and aggression. From the age of seven, he says, he often fled this life for the comfort and absorption of prayer.

On his own admission, Hepworth, 67, was at times an arrogant and needlessly flamboyant young man who easily made enemies as he pursued his chosen path. These traits, he concedes, may have damaged him, too, fuelling a perceived vendetta that continues to this day.

But he was a man of God, he says, and he had a dream.

In the end, however, he says it was the church he loved that let him down.

It was this church that was thrust into the headlines this week with inflammatory claims made by independent senator Nick Xenophon who, under parliamentary privilege, named and accused a serving Catholic priest of having raped Hepworth, now Archbishop of the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion, when they were fellow priests 45 years ago.

In evidence already accepted as fact by the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne, Hepworth has previously described a separate priests’ sex ring that indulged in fine foods and drank wine from crystal glasses as they listened to the great symphonies in the Dandenongs, Melbourne and Adelaide, and then raped him.

John Hepworth is a big man. He was born with a particular life canvas to paint, and he has coloured it with style. A twice-married former Catholic priest with several children, he is friendly and, when questioned about his past, open and revealing, even though he says he cannot remember some of the details, possibly due to serious injuries he received when he was hit by a bus when crossing a road.

But more likely, he says, the memory lapses are linked to the ongoing trauma he suffers after years of sex abuse and rape in the 1960s and 1970s by three priests. It started with two of them when he was a seminarian at Adelaide’s St Francis Xavier Seminary, aged 15.

Hepworth has named his abusers as the late Father John Stockdale, a priest in Bendigo who died in 1995, reportedly in a sex cubicle at the men-only Club 80, and notorious Melbourne paedophile priest Father Roland Pickering, who is also dead. The third alleged abuser now being investigated by the Adelaide archdiocese – and named this week by Xenophon – is a serving priest, Father Ian Dempsey, who Hepworth claims abused him sexually several times when they were both about 27. Dempsey has vigorously denied the allegations.

This week the scandal claimed its first scalp with a decision by the Catholic archdiocese of Adelaide, Monsignor David Cappo, not to take up the position of chair of the federal government’s newly formed Mental Health Commission, and to resign from another federal position, after Xenophon claimed he had been too slow to act on complaints made by Hepworth about Dempsey in 2007.

Hepworth, a former diocesan bishop with the Anglican Church, is now the Archbishop of the Traditional Anglican Communion, which claims 400,000 members in 41 countries and is seeking reconciliation with Rome. He fled the Catholic Church for London more than 40 years ago because, he says, of the sex abuse he suffered and because members of Catholic hierarchy in Adelaide not only refused to believe him, but had threatened to punish him if he ever revealed what he claimed to have happened.

Later, he alleged the archdiocese was far too slow to investigate his claims against Dempsey, a claim strenuously rejected by the archdiocese.

In Hepworth’s home town of Adelaide, the affair has given rise to a web of claims, counterclaims, facts and rumours.

And while his friends have stood by him resolutely, Hepworth too has come under fire from some quarters, with claims emerging of past financial mismanagement in parishes in South Australia and Victoria.

One such story is that Hepworth fled Adelaide not because of the sex abuse but because of financial irregularities in his parish, similar to trouble he got into over parish finances when he was an Anglican priest in Ballarat.

Hepworth denies the claims that he misappropriated funds from the Adelaide parish of Glenelg, where he had been an administrator in 1974. But he admits he faced court in Ballarat about 30 years ago charged with misappropriating $1200. He was, he says, under pressure from a marriage break-up at the time and his then wife wanted a big party for their son’s baptism, which he could not afford. So he paid the restaurant bill from a parish account, intending to pay it back. The diocese took him to court, he says, “because I had wrongly used [a parish account] and regretted it afterwards … And it was wrong … I pleaded ‘not guilty’. The magistrate refused to find any verdict. And that was the end of it.”

The Anglican Church, prior to Hepworth joining them in 1976, sent prominent Adelaide QC Robin Millhouse to Auxiliary Bishop Philip Kennedy at the Adelaide Catholic archdiocese to investigate the claims. Millhouse was told Hepworth had taken school fees and given receipts in discarded but only partly used receipt books and not accounted for the money.

Hepworth wanted charges preferred so he could clear himself. Kennedy, according to the Millhouse letter, said that would be bad for Hepworth and bad for the church if details came out. The Bishop added ”there was plenty of evidence” to convict him.

Almost a year earlier, however, the Vicar-General of the Catholic archdiocese, Monsignor Thomas Horgan, had given a reference for Hepworth, saying that, to his knowledge, over seven years, Hepworth had carried out his duties at three parishes, including Glenelg, with ”personal zeal and efficiency” and had “made a valuable contribution in matters liturgical to the archdiocese”.

Hepworth duly joined the Anglican Church, and later the Traditional Anglican Communion, where he became Primate in 2002. The TAC, described as “Anglo Catholic”, opposes the ordination of women and the move away from orthodoxy and feels more comfortable within the Catholic fold. Hepworth’s decision to go public about the sexual abuse is directly related to the TAC’s move to rejoin Rome. He says he wants it known why he left the Catholic Church in the first place.

Hepworth is the eldest of five children. His mother had been an army captain and served in the nursing corps in Jerusalem, and his father was a sergeant. Discipline was harsh. His father was remote to him. His mother demanded respect and obedience. She would hit him for no apparent reason, and he was afraid of her. He suffered severe panic attacks, lasting up to half an hour, from childhood into his young adult life. He was often sent to stay with his father’s sisters, where life was “full of fighting and aggression”, according to an account given to the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne.

The violence that started at home was to continue through primary school and all the way to the seminary, which he entered at 15. His first abuser, within a month of entering the seminary, was Father John Stockdale, to whom Hepworth was introduced by another seminarian. Stockdale abused Hepworth for years.

The fellow seminarian arranged for Hepworth to stay with Stockdale at his family home in Box Hill, where the sexual abuse and rape continued. He met the notorious paedophile Father Ronald Pickering at the Adelaide home of a member of the gay circle to which the priests belonged. Pickering quickly became Hepworth’s abuser at various locations, including his presbytery at Warburton, as well as raping him violently in a hotel.

Hepworth once contemplated suicide, planning to kill himself in Bendigo, where Stockdale was buried. He had almost reached Bendigo when he changed his mind.

Throughout the abuse, says Hepworth, he felt violated, fearful and confused. He liked the circle in which his abusers moved. There was money, and talk of music, the arts and culture. So he went along with it, but not, he says, by choice. He had been only 15 when it all started in Stockdale’s rooms at the Adelaide seminary where he had been given alcohol and then violently raped.

In some way, he says, he knew no other life. And he was afraid of their threats that if he revealed what went on within the circle he would be expelled from the seminary. His parents would find out. There would be shame and ruination.

But worst of all, he says, unless he kept quiet, the dream would not happen, and he would not become a priest.

Martin Daly is a senior writer.


David Cappo resigns over John Hepworth case

September 15, 2011 6:18PM

From: AAP

CONTROVERSY over the John Hepworth case has prompted a senior South Australian Catholic priest to quit a key federal government post.

Monsignor David Cappo was recently chosen by the federal government as the first chairman of the new Mental Health Commission, the body to lead national mental health reform.

But he said today he had advised the government that he would not take up the position and had also resigned from the Australian Social Inclusion Board.

“While I emphatically reject any suggestion that I or the church handled the complaint by John Hepworth with anything other than proper and due diligence, this matter has the potential to distract from the important work of the newly formed Mental Health Commission,” Monsignor Cappo said in a statement.

“I cannot allow that to occur.

“We have worked so hard to put mental health on the national agenda and I do not want, in any way, to have this progress jeopardised.”

Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth, who trained as a Catholic priest, claims he was raped more than 40 years ago by three priests, including two who have since died.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege on Tuesday, independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon defied the Catholic church and named Monsignor Ian Dempsey as the third priest involved.

Senator Xenophon also accused Monsignor Cappo of not acting in a timely manner on complaints lodged by Archbishop Hepworth in 2007.

At the time Monsignor Cappo was also working with the SA government as its commissioner for social inclusion.

He recently announced plans to leave that position at the end of the year, after accepting the federal role.

Monsignor Cappo said he would now leave his SA government role at the end of October.

“My main task at the moment is to deliver a blueprint on disability reform in South Australia,” he said.

“That document will be ready in October and I intend to leave my South Australian position at the end of that month.

“It has been a privilege to be of service to the state of South Australia and to the nation.”


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