Anglicans locked out of church in forced sale to meet child sex compensation claims

Anglicans locked out of church in forced sale to meet child sex compensation claims Gathering: St Aidan’s Anglican Church, Black Springs, outside Oberon, on December 3 after parishioners were locked out of the church which is being sold.

Decision: Former Hunter priest and Bathurst Anglican Bishop Ian Palmer says St Aidan’s church is one of a number of churches that have to be sold to meet child sex abuse compensation claims.

Beauty: The interior of 127-year-old St Aidan’s Church at Black Springs.

Outspoken: Sydney Anglican priest Andrew Sempell supports St Aidan’s parishioners fighting to keep their church.

TweetFacebook Church sold, congregation locked out and Anglicans angry with their bishop. A former Hunter priest is under siege over a church sale. THEY’RE the parishionerslocked out of their church by a bishop who saidthe buildingmust be sold to pay compensation to child sex survivors.

They’re the Christians told they can’t call themselves Anglicans if they gatherand prayoutside the church grounds.

But more than 20 regular parishioners at historic St Aidan’s church at Black Springs, near Oberon, are not taking the decision lying down, after accusing former Hunter priest and Bathurst Anglican Bishop Ian Palmer of “dishonouring the important process set up by the royal commission to support survivors”.

“The diocese is trying to raise $2 million, but selling this church is not going to solve that problem,” said Black Springs parishioner Anne Wilson, who said the 127-year-old tin-clad church on a small block of land was only likely to raise a few tens of thousands of dollars.

A church rectory in Oberon has avoided the property sale, despite being valued at considerably more, Mrs Wilson said.

“It’s very important that the diocese provide redress for child sexual abuse survivors. But if the bishop is serious about it he would sell off the rectory in Oberon because they have no minister there now,” Mrs Wilson said.

In appeals to Oberon Shire Council on Tuesday night and AustralianAnglican Primate Philip Freier, the St Aidan’s congregation argues it’s being sold up for challenging the bishop.

In a letter on November 29 Bishop Palmer said St Aidan’s was one of a number of Bathurst diocese parish churches to be closed and sold in order to meet claims for redress from child sex survivors.

The letter made no mention of forced property sales to help meet the diocese’s $25 million debt after it lost a court case over $40 million in outstanding Commonwealth Bank loans.

Bishop Palmer accused some St Aidan’s parish members of “breaking fellowship” and fostering “disunity and division” within the parish by “speaking badly” of people, including him.

The church locks were changed on November 30, parishioners were warned that entering the property would be an offence, and the monthly service due on December 3 was held in the rain on the church boundary instead.

“We had a small service. We gave thanks for the church and what it had been to us and we prayed for the future,” Mrs Wilson said.

The prayer groups outside the church prompted Bishop Palmer to advise that “using the name ‘Anglican’to describe a gathering that has not been agreed by the parish priest is contrary to the Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia. They have no authority to do this”.

Sydney Anglican priest Andrew Sempell, a former Bathurst priest who challenged Sydney archdiocese over a $1 million contribution to the same sex marriage “No” campaign, supported the St Aidan’s parishioners and said the St Aidan’s church sale “just doesn’t add up”.

The parish was bucking the trend of diminishing Anglican congregations and made a significant contribution to the remote rural community, Mrs Wilson and Father Sempell said.

“I’ve described the demise of the diocese of Bathurst as death by 1000 cuts, by its own hands,” Father Sempell said.

Bishop Palmer, who was at Hunter parishes including New Lambton, Belmont North and Muswellbrook between 1988 and 2005, declined to respond to questions.

“I spent over 15 very happy years in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Regarding Black Springs, I have no idea why a local matter in Bathurst should be of any interest to people in Newcastle,” Bishop Palmer said.

“The diocese of Bathurst, like other dioceses, has sold and plans to sell a number of properties in order to meet claims for redress from survivors of sexual abuse.”

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