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SYDNEY: Priests Forced to Reveal Sexual Past

PRIESTS FORCED TO REVEAL SEXUAL PAST

By James Murray, Religious affairs editor
THE AUSTRALIAN

April 01, 2004

PRIESTS in Australia's largest Anglican diocese are being forced to fill out a detailed and highly personal questionnaire about their sexual history, including relationships outside marriage, as part of a crackdown on child abusers in the church.

The Sydney diocese questionnaire also asks about any involvement in the occult, whether priests have been cruel to animals, their attitudes to alcohol and any convictions for driving offences.

The use of internet chat rooms and pornography comes under scrutiny in the eight-page document approved by the diocese's professional standards committee, a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian.

Under a section called child protection and criminal conduct, priests are asked whether they have ever been charged with an offence or been the subject of an investigation, faced a traffic offence in court, had their driver's licence revoked or suspended or been the subject of an apprehended violence order.

Other questions include any history of gambling, homosexual relationships or charges of sexual misconduct with persons under the age of consent.

Compulsory for prospective priests and those transferring to the diocese, the questionnaire, introduced in recent weeks, will also be given to priests and deacons wanting to renew their licences to preach and administer the sacraments. Applicants answering yes to some of the questions could be rejected.

The questionnaire has been criticised by some bishops as being too intimate and precluding any thought of repentance, forgiveness and healing, as well as fears it could lead to dishonesty rather than frankness.

Philip Gerber, of the child protection committee of the Anglican General Synod, said the Sydney diocese thought it best to introduce the questionnaire "sooner rather than later".

But he said not all of the 23 Anglican dioceses in Australia would follow suit. A police check of prospective priests is common practice even in states where the law does not make it obligatory, especially if they will be working with children.

A debate on the recommendations of the General Synod's working group will take place in October, and an attempt made to have a unified national approach. It is expected some dioceses will want modifications, but general agreement is expected.

The questionnaire comes after the National Council of Churches called 60 representatives together in Canberra recently from the Anglican, Catholic, Uniting, Lutheran, Salvation Army, Greek Orthodox, Quaker, Churches of Christ, Coptic Orthodox, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist and Presbyterian churches to discuss sexual abuse.

Council general secretary John Henderson said the churches were "now ready to come together around the table and tell their stories, listen more intently to victims, and to develop a positive culture in which abuse and misconduct will not take place".

END

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