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|Posted by: Charles Mar 30 2018, 01:56 PM|
| Paying for the sins of their church
By David Lewis for Background Briefing
The Anglican Diocese of Newcastle is using money raised from selling churches to compensate victims of child sexual abuse, but one coastal community is fighting back.
The church on the hill
The closest thing the tiny town of Bungwahl has to a landmark is its church. St James sits high on a hill, overlooking the sparkling Myall Lakes on the New South Wales mid-north coast.
It has been there for more than a century but many tourists fail to notice the heritage-listed building as they drive past on their way to Seal Rocks or Forster.
On the day I visited, however, the church was hard to ignore.
At the bottom of the hill, sitting just off the main road, angry residents have printed messages on large sheets of plastic that have been nailed to gum trees and wooden posts.
"Save St James Church, Bungwahl," reads one of them.
"The church was a gift of heritage but now it is being sold by the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle," warns another.
There are more of these signs on a neighbouring property directly opposite St James: "Don't sell our church to pay for your sins."
Greg and Karen Thomas have a deep connection to the church.
The couple live next door and most of the signs protesting the sale are on their land.
Mr Thomas showed me where his parents etched their names into the pylons beneath the church.
"Ron and Joan Thomas — that's my family," he said.
The couple have repeatedly clashed with David Shaw, the real estate agent hired by the diocese to sell the church, who accuses them of interfering with the sale.
Mrs Thomas captured two of their arguments on camera. They both happened in February on a day St James was open for inspection.
In the first video, Mr Shaw is shouting at Mr Thomas, who is sitting in his car outside the church after being told to leave.
Mr Thomas claims some of his "no-trespassing" signs are missing. Mr Shaw alleges his "for-sale" signs have been removed, too.
"So two can play at that game, if you want to be a dickhead," he yells in the video.
Mr Shaw says the couple were intimidating people attending inspections at the church.
"They were there at the church, refusing to give me their details and then actively engaging with people that were coming to the open house," he said.
"They were intimidating people by filming and walking right up close to people and shoving cameras in their faces like they also did to me."
In the second video, Mr and Mrs Thomas are standing on the boundary between their land and the church. Mr Shaw is pacing back and forth.
"When David saw us, he came up to the fence and started to become very aggressive and very hostile," Mr Thomas said.
Mr Shaw crawls through the barbed-wire fence, using his hands to pry it open.
The fence is not exactly on the boundary so although he has crossed it, he is not trespassing.
"I'm on church property so f*** off," he screams in the video.
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Reporter David Lewis travels to a small coastal community where residents are fighting to protect their place of worship.
The argument lasts for at least nine minutes. When Mr and Mrs Thomas have had enough and begin to walk away, Mr Shaw can be heard saying, "don't have an accident on the way home".
Mr and Mrs Thomas have spent a lot of time and energy arguing with Mr Shaw, but they have not succeeded in stopping St James from going to auction.
Still, when I spoke to the couple, they seemed determined to have the last laugh.
A major selling point for the church is its stunning view over the Myall Lakes.
Mr Thomas previously helped maintain this outlook by clearing trees on their land, directly below the building. But he will not be doing that anymore.
"We're not particularly interested in doing any more work for the Diocese. They've turned their back on the community efforts made in the past," he said.
"They're simply looking at the dollars they can reap from the sale of this wonderful old building and I simply don't feel that I should be spending my weekends keeping the view clear," Mr Thomas said.
"Within two or three years, there won't be a view."
St James Bungwal - archival photo
Photo: St James Church, Bungwahl (University of Newcastle: Cultural Collections)
St James is almost as old as Bungwahl itself, which helps to explain why residents feel so passionately about keeping it.
The church was built by Alexander Croll, a Scottish man considered a pioneer of the town, on land he purchased in 1873.
According to property records, Mr Croll paid just 40 pounds sterling for 40 acres.
Kevin Carter, president of the Bulahdelah Historical Society, believes Mr Croll had a particular location in mind for St James.
"I know it sounds corny, but you're closer to God, you know, on top of the hill, it's a sort of a reverence thing," he said.
[Saint James church, Bungwahl]
In 1888, realising he could not continue maintaining the church himself, Mr Croll gifted St James to the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.
As the legal owner of both the land and the building, the Diocese has every right to sell.
"I would have thought some of the pioneers would be turning in their grave," Mr Carter said.
It is no secret the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle is under financial pressure.
Australians are becoming less religious so congregations are getting smaller. That means there are fewer parishioners to contribute money to the Diocese.
The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse exposed widespread paedophilia within the diocese and concluded that its leaders were at times weak, ineffectual, and even complicit.
Newcastle received the fifth highest number of complaints of any Anglican Diocese in Australia.
It also ran the infamous St John's Theological College in Morpeth, which has since closed.
The college educated more paedophiles than any other Anglican training institution in the country.
The Royal Commission may be over, but victims continue to come forward, seeking compensation.
"We don't see an early end to our processes of redress or support," Bishop Peter Stuart said in an interview with Background Briefing.
"We've assigned more people, resources, and time to make sure that anyone who comes forward receives the care and assistance that they need."
Bishop Peter said redress payments "had not been calculated into the budget" and the financial position of the diocese was "under considerable pressure" as a result.
It is hard to calculate how much money will ultimately be paid to its victims, but Bishop Peter provided an estimate of around $10 million.
A quarter of that is yet to be found.
In 1993, the diocese purchased insurance for child sexual abuse, but many claims have been rejected.
Ansvar Insurance refused to provide coverage for any instances of abuse about which the diocese knew or should have known.
At one point the Trustees of Church Property said they had found a spare $3.5 million that could be used for redress, but it turned out to be an accounting error.
Bishop Peter said the mistake caused "some consternation" but the diocese was determined to find a way around the issue.
Instead, the diocese began dipping into its cash reserves to fund redress, but those have since run out.
Bishop Peter was ultimately left with no choice but to ask each of the 63 parishes that make up the diocese to help.
They agreed to hand over 25 per cent of the money they had raised from selling real estate, including churches.
Property records and information volunteered by the diocese show at least 18 churches have been closed since 2010 and 11 of them sold.
Those sales raised around $5 million for various parishes. Background Briefing estimates just under $1 million of that has been given to the diocese for redress purposes.
Given the average compensation payment is $180,000 per person, that would mean five victims have benefited from the sale of these churches.
The diocese is now taking an even bigger chunk of the proceeds from property sales. It will collect 40 per cent of the money raised from selling St James in Bungwahl, for example.
When I asked Bishop Peter whether he thinks the diocese now has enough cash to cover its redress obligations into the future, he shrugged his shoulders.
"I haven't done that calculation," he said.
Bishop Peter decided he needed to bring in outside expertise. The diocese hired the consultancy firm KPMG in 2016 to review its finances and organisational structure.
KPMG concluded the diocese needed to run its affairs more like a business.
It recommended establishing a new entity called the Newcastle Anglican Church Corporation.
"The review highlighted for us that we needed to strengthen some of our financial management skills in light of some of the work we were doing and our 21st century needs," Bishop Peter said.
The Anglican Diocese of Newcastle has promised to be "more courageous" about selling property, including churches.
Bishop Peter acknowledged the pain many residents in Bungwahl were feeling, but said the diocese had to make tough decisions to meet its redress obligations and the financial challenges posed by changing religious attitudes.
"We understand the sadness that a closing of the church will bring," he said.
"It is our current responsibility to address the harm that was done in the past and it's something that we've accepted as the thing that we need to do."
The auction was held on a humid Saturday afternoon in February.
A small crowd of parishioners and curious locals gathered at the church for the last time.
Once real estate agent, David Shaw, had brought everyone inside, the bidding began.
A woman from Newcastle offered $300,000. A man from Bungwahl increased the price by a few thousand dollars.
This back and forth continued until the auction stalled at $376,000 — well below the reserve price of $500,000.
When I recently called Mr Shaw for an update, he told me a couple from Sydney had agreed to buy the church for more than $450,000. They plan to convert it into a house.
Greg Thomas, whose family has lived in Bungwahl for generations, said the town was losing part of its history and identity.
"The people to come are sort of going to wonder why that church isn't still here," he said.
"The future generations are going to shake their heads at what's happened here."
Put in very simple terms, a small community loses its church to pay for the sickening crimes of guilty clergy.
|Posted by: charka Mar 30 2018, 02:14 PM|
|This is wrong What a pretty church|
|Posted by: Alicia Mar 30 2018, 03:32 PM|
|Money changers in the temple?|
|Posted by: Bear Mar 30 2018, 03:45 PM|
| A great shame that the community couldn't save their old Church.
The filth shouldn't have been permitted to sell this Church to pay for their sins.
I am sure that it would not happen if it was a Mosque.
|Posted by: Bill Mar 31 2018, 02:41 PM|
| Quote from Bear:
I am sure that it would not happen if it was a Mosque.
Nice try but no cigar Bear. What does that comment have to do with Charles' excellent post ?
The Anglicans will have a problem retaining their local churches and the cost ot compensation should be borne by the hierarchy not the local diocese. That's where all the money is, after all, not in the local diocese.
The Catholic Church on the other hand, will have no such problems.
A long time ago the Catholic Church hived off its real estate from the diocese to a separate company that the local diocese lease back from this outside entity. It includes their churches, schools, and hospitals.
This way the people responsible for paying compensation will be the local parishioners not the church.
The architect of this grand scheme to save the assets of the Church of Rome ?? None other than former Archbishop George Pell. He was made a Cardinal for his services in protecting the assets of the church, and was immediately seconded to the Vatican as their chief financial advisor, where he has reportedly been re-arranging the church's asset register to remove their real estate from diocese ownership and control.
Daniel Andrews government is currently trying to change the law to overturn the church's action s in removing assets from the diocese control. Not sure how far advanced that process is, but my bet is that the lawyers are already being briefed.
|Posted by: Bear Mar 31 2018, 04:06 PM|
| Another cherry pick Bill, I stand by what I said. I am sure that it would not happen if it was a Mosque.
No need for one of your cigars, I don't smoke.
The rest of my post (that you made no snide remarks about) most likely because it is similar to what Charles said.
You really are a nitpicker Bill.
|Posted by: Bill Mar 31 2018, 05:42 PM|
| You really are a nitpicker Bill.
You are, of course, absolutely correct.