The Australian Anglican church's crisis over sexual assault allegations has broadened beyond the state of Queensland with the conviction last Friday of a former Anglican priest with a criminal record for paedophilia dating back more than 40 years.
Robert Ellmore, 64, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for abusing three girls, one as young as eight. He worked mainly in the New South Wales Diocese of Bathurst. He became a priest in 1976.
His criminal record for sex offences dated from the 1950s but there is no evidence to suggest his diocese knew of his offenses before he became a priest.
Outside the court, the mother of one of his victims denounced the church's handling of Ellmore as "amateurish." She claimed a church official told her he could not understand why Ellmore had assaulted her daughter, because his wife was "a pretty good sort: not ugly or overweight."
The mother compared the case to the one which has recently prompted calls for the resignation of the Australian governor-general, Dr Peter Hollingworth, the former Anglican archbishop of Brisbane in the state of Queensland.
Child protection groups have called for Hollingworth's resignation following allegations that he mishandled a sexual assault case during his time as archbishop. The respected national newspaper The Australian has reported widespread anger in the Brisbane Diocese.
In last week's criminal case in New South Wales, it was revealed that Robert Ellmore's sexual assault record dates back to 1957. In August 1992, a relative of Ellmore's wrote to church authorities telling them that Ellmore had again been convicted, this time of assaulting a five-year-old. On this occasion, Ellmore was fined $2,600 and given a five-year good behavior bond.
The letter led to the withdrawal of Ellmore's license to preach, but he was formally defrocked only last month, following the start of the most recent criminal proceedings.
Ellmore's sentencing last week followed his guilty plea to offenses in 1981, 1984, and last year. They involved a friend of his daughter, the 8-year-old child of a family friend, and a ten-year-old he forced to remain behind after confirmation classes.
The professional standards director for the Sydney Diocese, Philip Gerber, said the church had erred in the 1970s and 1980s in protecting the rights of the accused over the interests of the victims. This, together with the reluctance of victims to come forward, had meant that Ellmore had "gotten away with it," Gerber said.
Copyright © 2002 ENI
Also appearing on our site today:
Australian Governor-General Feels Heat Over Handling of Abuse Case | Former Anglican archbishop Peter Hollingworth denies that he failed to offer support to victim's family.
Related news coverage of the Ellmore case includes:
Church 'ashamed' at handling of pedophilia case - Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 21, 2002)
11 years' prison for priest who abused girls - Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 19, 2002)
Former priest jailed for abuse of three girls- The Canberra Times (Jan. 19, 2002)
Recent news articles about other Anglican sex abuse cases in Australia include:
Church sued for not caring - The Courier-Mail (Jan. 23, 2002)
Tough times for Anglican church - The Australian (Jan. 21, 2002)
School hit with new sex claim - The Daily Telegram (Jan. 19, 2002)
Church apology angers families - The Daily Telegram (Dec. 24, 2001)
Governor general of Australia in child abuse row - The Guardian, London (Dec. 23, 2001)
Haunted by the past - Sydney Morning Herald (Dec. 22, 2001)
Governor-General responds to criticism - ABC News (Dec. 20, 2001)
Sex scandal dogs Governor-General - BBC (Dec. 20, 2001)
Calls for Senate inquiry into G-G's response to child abuse claims - ABC News (Dec. 14, 2001)
For more articles, see Christianity Today'sWorld Report.