Church dissent over abuse approach

Dr Philip Aspinall says the Anglican church needs an external compensation scheme for abuse victims. (AAP)

Anglican head Dr Phillip Aspinall says the church needs an external compensation scheme for sex abuse victims to prevent internal dissent.

Anglicans in Australia would take a dim view if the church sold off its multi-million dollar assets to settle with abuse victims, the head of the church says.

The primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Phillip Aspinall, told a royal commission the church needs a mandatory compensation scheme imposed on it so it can deal fairly with sex abuse victims.

Dr Aspinall said the only way a compensation scheme would work was if it was imposed from outside.

The Anglican Church of Australia is not a unified structure, dioceses have primary power and can reject or adopt laws passed by the General Synod, Dr Aspinall told the final day of public hearings into how the Diocese of Grafton dealt with victims of sex abuse at a church orphanage in northern NSW.

"Many confuse our structures with the Roman Catholics and presume the primate has coercive powers akin to the pope," he said in a statement submitted to the royal commission.

"The belief that the primate of the Anglican Church is effectively the CEO of Australian's Anglicans is wrong.

"It may well be helpful if the royal commission were able to achieve a uniform mandatory compensation scheme which would ensure parity, not just between Anglican dioceses, but across government organisations, so that we don't have different classes of victims.

"It would be much quicker and simpler for us if that were imposed on us from outside and dioceses would not fall into the trap that Grafton did in terms of focusing on financial matters to the detriment of victims."

The commission has learned that Grafton is asset rich with properties valued at approximately $200 million, but had a debt of between $10 million or $12 million dollars because it built a private school that was not attracting students.

Dr Aspinall told the commission that across 23 Anglican dioceses their wealth would be in assets, not cash.

Justice Peter McClellan asked if there had been any church discussion that it might need to sell assets to make settlement payments.

Dr Aspinall said there might have been, but every diocese would find it hard to achieve as the assets were houses and churches and the people who had raised funds to build them would take a "dim view" if they were being sold for this purpose.

He went on to say that with a mandatory compensation system a diocese would simply be given a determination by a statutory body and be required to find the money.

"Then they could focus on the financial aspects and be forced to deal with it."

He also said it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the church to implement that kind of system itself, as it would require every diocese to agree.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard Grafton diocese tried to deny liability for the North Coast Children's Home when more that 40 former residents alleged horrific physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

After years of legal wrangling, a without-prejudice settlement was reached in 2007 which saw 39 victims accept what has been described as a paltry payment of about $10,000 each.

The commission also heard that the then Bishop of Grafton, Keith Slater, was focused on the diocese's debt problems.

Bishop Slater has apologised for his handling of the affair.

Source AAP

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