Bishop to apologise for sex abuse cover up

Beth Heinrich for Ken story
Beth Heinrich for Ken story Les Smith

THE Bishop of Grafton is about to deliver an apology to a woman whose 40-year saga of sexual abuse at the hands of de-frocked Bishop Donald Shearman which brought down a Governor-General and figured strongly in a Royal Commission.

During her sermon tomorrow, Bishop Sarah Macneil will deliver her apology to 76-year-old Beth Heinrich.

Ms Heinrich's story of sexual abuse over 40 years at the hands of Shearman has been extensively documented, featuring in an Australian Story two-part expose in 2005 and many newspaper articles.

"I think it's very brave of Bishop Sarah to be willing to apologise to me now and I'm very grateful for it too," Ms Heinrich said.

"In December 1995 I had to go to Brisbane to the diocese where Shearman lived and it was Peter Hollingworth who started it all off.

"All I wanted him to do was stop Shearman from preaching and he had retired prior to that, but was doing what they call locums and still had his permission to officiate.

"He didn't do it and when he got the chance he vilified me."

She said Archbishop Hollingworth's attitude at the time frightened her.

"What frightened me away for about five years was a letter from Hollingworth saying my story was different to the Shearmans," she said.

"It really sent me into some spiral right down the bottom of a well. I was living on my own with no support from anyone and it actually frightened me away for well over five years."

Ms Heinrich said the cover-up was an "old boys' club" of priests protecting themselves.

"I told him when we met at a later date it was just the big boys' club wasn't it?" Ms Heinrich said.

"Covering up for one of your mates. A former OBE recipient. Former Anglican priest. Why not?"

She said the attempts to cover up her story had well and truly backfired.

"If they had said 'We are really sorry. What can we do for you?' it would have been all over and done with.

"If in '95 Hollingworth had quietly said 'look old boy, no more preaching for you', no-one would have known."

Now she can laugh about what might have been going on in Shearman's head as he pursued her over the decades.

"I have got mountains of correspondence from him planning our lives together," she said.

"In 1983 he said in 12 months' time you'll be my Easter bride. I think he was living in la-la land. I don't know."

Shearman's former Dean at Grafton Richard Hurford, now the Bishop of Bathurst, said on Australian Story he had been taken in by Shearman, but came to completely believe Ms Heinrich's story.

"It's significant to me that the inquiry and, again, the tribunal both censured Donald Shearman for behaving badly as a priest and as a bishop, but at no time was any apology made to Beth Heinrich for the devastation of her life, and especially for the violation of her life as a schoolgirl in the hostel in Forbes," he said.

"I couldn't see how anyone could fail to see it as sexual abuse and of a minor, which, of course, is a criminal matter. In my view, she should be completely vindicated.

"Early in 2004, I asked both Donald Shearman and Beth Heinrich jack-blunt questions. I'm satisfied that Beth Heinrich's story is accurate."

Shearman is living in Queensland, ironically at a place called Deception Bay.

Topics:  australian story editors picks governor-general sexual abuse

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