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Queen's envoy to front sex abuse probe

Some of Governor-General Hollingworth's explanations for his actions have outraged victims' support groups  

CNN's Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia's Governor-General Peter Hollingworth will give evidence at an independent inquiry into allegations of a cover up of sexual abuse cases while he was Anglican archbishop of the diocese of Brisbane, Queensland.

The inquiry has been called by his successor, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, who said Tuesday that allegations of child abuse had "not been handled well" by the church at senior levels over the past decade.

Hollingworth resigned as Archbishop of the Brisbane diocese last year upon his appointment by the Queen of England as her representative as Head of State of Australia.

The embattled Hollingworth is expected to released a statement later Wednesday defending himself against charges he condoned and covered-up sexual abuses committed by Anglican church officials during his reign.

It is not known if this statement will address a fresh allegation which emerged Wednesday that he endorsed a secret cash settlement which hushed up direct evidence of sexual abuse of boys at an Anglican church private school.

Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper reports police had brought criminal charges of sexual abuse against a counselor at the school in 1997. The man committed suicide hours after being charged.

Weeks later the Anglican church paid a settlement to one victim of the man, but demanded strict secrecy provisions as part of the deal. Asia
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It is understood Hollingworth would have been informed of the deal before it proceeded.

Political support for Hollingworth remaining Governor-General is waning as the toll of allegations mounts and the rebuttals of those charges raise still more questions.

Prime Minister of Australia John Howard said Tuesday that Hollingworth remained in his position at the "pleasure of the Queen".

However the Queen who is being kept informed of developments in the situation would only act to remove Hollingworth on the advice of Howard.

The controversy comes at an embarrassing time for the Queen, who is due to visit Australia next week as part of her golden jubilee tour and to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting being held just north of Brisbane.

Of particular concern is Hollingworth's defense of a priest, who later became a bishop, who admitted to Hollingworth that he had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl, believed to have been 14.

Implies fault

Hollingworth allowed the bishop to continue in his duties, the man only being dismissed when Hollingworth resigned his post to become Governor-General.

"My belief is that this was not sex abuse. There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that. Quite the contrary. My information is that it was rather the other way around," Hollingworth said on ABC television earlier this week.

That answer has enraged critics who say such a relationship implies fault in the victim and ignores the abuse of power and trust by the priest.

Hollingworth has also been under fire for not giving enough support for victims of sexual abuse which occurred in an Anglican school under his jurisdiction in the 1990s and for putting legal and insurance considerations ahead of the needs of the victims.

In the case of the school abuse, Hollingworth admitted he had "not been up to the job" and said if the victims felt let down by him in this matter, then they had been.


Queen Elizabeth
The controversy is embarrassing for Queen Elizabeth who is set to visit Australia next week  

The controversy has also prompted concern amongst children's charities of which the Governor-General is a patron.

The founder of child welfare charity Kids First Foundation has resigned as a director of the organization because he feels "uncomfortable" that Hollingworth is its patron.

And a board member of the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect said there was some disquiet in that organization over Hollingworth's patronage.

As Australia is a constitutional monarchy, the Governor-General is the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth and is appointed by her, and sacked by her, on the advice of the Australian prime minister.

While it is largely a symbolic role, the Governor-General does have the power to sack the government in certain circumstances, as happened in 1975 when then Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the government of Gough Whitlam.




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