Governor general denies cover-up of abuse claims

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The Queen's representative in Australia, Peter Hollingworth, faced calls for his resignation yesterday amid allegations that he covered up a child sex abuse scandal at a church school when he was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane.

Dr Hollingworth, the governor general, denied any involvement in suppressing the scandal but admitted that legal and insurance-related considerations had prevented him from showing more compassion to victims and their families.

He has faced mounting pressure to account for his actions since the Supreme Court ordered the Brisbane Diocese earlier this month to pay damages of A$834,000 (£292,000) to a former student, now aged 24, who was sexually abused by Kevin Guy, the boarding master at Toowoomba Preparatory School. Guy killed himself after he was charged in 1990, leaving a letter saying he had "loved" 20 girls. This week a second alleged victim launched a lawsuit against the church.

During the court case, a psychologist who counselled the first victim testified that when she asked Dr Hollingworth to offer support to the parents of another girl, he said he was "very tired", needed a holiday and there was nothing he could do to help.

Campaigners against child abuse have called for Dr Hollingworth – who was archbishop for a decade before being appointed governor general – to step down.

The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Jim Soorley, a former Catholic priest, said Dr Hollingworth had left questions unanswered. "Within the Christian tradition, bishops are regarded as shepherds," he said. "It's very clear that he was not a good shepherd, and there are serious consequences for that." Dr Hollingworth broke his silence in a statement released after consultation with church lawyers. He denied showing a lack of concern for victims and their families.

But he added: "I am sorry that legal and insurance considerations to some extent inhibited our taking a more active role and more overtly expressing the church's concern for the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of those affected by the actions of Mr Guy." Dr Hollingworth said he first visited the school for a speech day only days before Guy was charged and had "no knowledge whatever" of his activities before then. Nor did he have reason to believe the headmaster knew about Guy's conduct, he said.

Simon Crean, the Federal Opposition leader, criticised Dr Hollingworth's long silence on the subject, saying: "I think it has tarnished the office of governor general."

Hetty Johnston, the executive director of the People's Alliance Against Child Abuse, said: "These people came to him looking for support, and he denied that support." Referring to the priority given to insurance issues, she said: "Well, what was it? The money or the children? It should have been the children."