Church clears priest accused of assaulting Anglican bishop

Archbishop Philip Wilson of the Diocese of Adelaide
Archbishop Philip Wilson of the Diocese of Adelaide

.- An Australian Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth several decades ago has been cleared of any wrongdoing by his diocese.

“There is no substance to the allegations made by Archbishop Hepworth,” Archbishop Philip Wilson of the Diocese of Adelaide said on Nov. 28. His remarks follow a two-month investigation into claims made against local priest Monsignor Ian Dempsey.

Archbishop Hepworth, 67, had alleged that he was sexually abused, beginning in 1960, by three Catholic priests including Msgr. Dempsey.

The diocesan investigation, which found Msgr. Dempsey innocent of the charges, was conducted by a leading Adelaide lawyer Michael Abbott.

“I am satisfied that Mr. Abbott examined all of the allegations raised by Archbishop Hepworth,” Archbishop Wilson said.

“He personally interviewed 29 witnesses, including many who were present at the time that the events were alleged to have occurred.”

Abbot “also examined a very large body of relevant documents including those still in existence from the period dating back to the relevant period,” he added.

Archbishop Wilson said he does not intend to release the full report publicly for various reasons “not the least of which is that it contains significant personal and sensitive information which all parties are entitled to have respected.”

The claims of sexual abuse leveled against Msgr. Dempsey emerged in September when a member of the Australian Senate, Nick Xenophon, made the allegations public.

“It’s been a very long few months since those accusations became public in the Senate and it’s been a very trying and difficult time,” said Msgr. Dempsey to Australia’s ABC News Nov. 28.

He added that he was “very much relieved that the truth has finally come out and justice has been served.”

Australia's Herald Sun reported on Nov. 29 that Archbishop Hepworth has since filed a police complaint after the diocesan report exonerated Msgr. Dempsey.

Archbishop Hepworth was ordained a Catholic priest in 1968 but converted to Anglicanism in 1976. He has been married twice and has three children. He is now the leader of the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion, which claims 400,000 members in 41 countries.

Last year, its Australian members petitioned the Vatican for reconciliation with the Catholic Church under Rome’s 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.

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