Case study: Anglican Church in Tasmania – communicating about sexual abuse

The Anglican Church in Tasmania, like many other institutions in Australia, in the early 2000’s faced increasing claims of child sex abuse.

However, unlike many institutions that chose to turn a blind eye to such claims, the Anglican Church in Tasmania under the leadership of Bishop John Harrower, decided to deal with the matter in a positive and pro-active way.

While such an approach is to be applauded, the challenge the Anglican Church faced was that while it was dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse in a positive manner, the fact that it was the first institution in Tasmania (and for that matter the nation) to publicly acknowledge the problem, meant it was the first point of reference for any public debate on the issue.

Font Public Relations saw what were genuine attempts to deal with the matter, but realised the Anglican Church was failing to communicate its work to the wider Tasmanian community. Font offered assistance and over time helped the organisation deal with various issues as they arose to ensure that victims of child abuse are properly treated, as well as allowing the institution to move forward.

This has seen the Anglican Church in Tasmania recognised as a leader in dealing with child sexual abuse, its ‘safe ministry’ blueprint adopted as a code of practice throughout Australia, the financial compensation scheme adopted by other institutions and it allowed the church to get on with its core role of ensuring that it is a relevant institution in the 21st century.

Bishop Harrower became a well-regarded and credible spokesperson in the media, spurring public debate in Tasmania around the issue of understanding Islam, abortion and euthanasia. Just five years ago, such thoughts would have been fanciful, such was the odium associated with the Anglican Church in Tasmania.

While the issue of child sex abuse in the Tasmanian Anglican Church will never be fully resolved, as a responsible member of the community it can and has not only dealt with the matter, but moved forward, showing others a clear path of leadership.

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