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From a Colonial Chaplaincy to Responsible Governance: The Anglican Church of Australia and Its Ecclesiological Challenge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2021

Bruce Kaye*
Adjunct Research Professor at the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University, Canberra


Habits and institutions gradually emerged in earliest Christianity. They were soon enrolled in the Roman empire and subsequently into various forms of Christendom. The English Christendom lasted many centuries and in the period of empire planted the Anglican Church in Australia. This Christendom model was fractured decisively in New South Wales in the first half of the nineteenth century. The recent Royal Commission into abuse in institutions has brought to light serious abuse in the Church and associated it with a form of clericalism. The Commission identifies this issue but does not offer any analysis of its character or causes, which has the effect of diminishing the contribution that the Commission might have made to addressing the problem. A preliminary attempt is offered in this article.

Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2021

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This article is an edited version of the Third Sharwood Lecture in Church Law, Melbourne, 2020.


2 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Report, 17 vols (2017), available at <>, accessed 22 October 2020 (henceforth Royal Commission, Final Report). All references are to volume xvi.

3 There had been earlier ventures into professional development and standards. See Blake, G, ‘Child protection and the Anglican Church of Australia’, (2006) 4:1 Journal of Anglican Studies 81106CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Pickard, S, Seeking the Church: an introduction to ecclesiology (London, 2012), pp 1523Google Scholar.

5 See, for example, Colossians 3:12 or Galatians 5:22, and the otherworldly character of the Christian life in Ephesians 6:10–17. Alan Kreider neatly reviews the early (mostly pre-Nicene) writing of Christians on these virtues: Kreider, A, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: the improbable rise of Christianity in the Roman empire (Grand Rapids, MI, 2016)Google Scholar.

6 This is the central theme in the argument in Romans (see especially Romans 6). See R Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ: a study in Pauline theology (Berlin, 1967); B Kaye, The Argument of Romans with Special Reference to Chapter 6 (Austin, TX, 1979). See also the treatment of this theme in the Letter to Diognetus, chap 5: ‘But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers’ (translation from A Roberts, J Donaldson and A Cleveland Coxe (eds), Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, 1885), rev and ed K Knight, <>, accessed 22 October 2020).

7 H Drake, Constantine and the Bishops: the politics of intolerance (Baltimore, MD, 2000).

8 P Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: triumph and diversity, a.d. 200–1000 (Malden, MA, 2013); P Leithart, Defending Constantine: the twilight of an empire and the dawn of Christendom (Downers Grove, IL, 2010); J Herrin, The Formation of Christendom (Princeton, NJ, 1989); B Kaye, The Rise and Fall of the English Christendom: theocracy, Christology, order and power (London, 2018).

9 F Maitland, ‘Canon law in England (continued)’, (1896) 11:44 English Historical Review 641–672, at 645: ‘So ragged, so unscientific was the frontier which at any given moment and in any given country divided the territory of secular from the territory of ecclesiastical law that the ground could be lost and won by insensible degrees.’ Maitland also makes the point that ‘from the twelfth [century] onwards there has been a good deal of ecclesiastical law that has not been enforced’ (ibid).

10 Sometime between 1072 and 1076. See D Whitelock, M Brett and C Brooke, Councils and Synods: with other documents relating to the English Church. 1, a.d. 871–1204 (Oxford, 1981), pp 620–624.

11 For the story of this episode in relation to the developing structure of English public institutions, see Kaye, Rise and Fall of the English Christendom. On the demise of clerical privilege, see K Mason, ‘Clergy status in the age of the Royal Commission’, Sharwood Lecture, Melbourne, 2018, pp 3–5, available at <>, accessed 22 October 2020.

12 F Watson and Australia Parliament Library Committee, Historical Records of Australia (Sydney, 1914), p 21.

13 The best biography of Broughton is still G Shaw, Patriarch and Patriot: William Grant Broughton 1788–1853 (Melbourne, 1978). See also B Kaye, Colonial Religion: conflict and change in Church and State (Adelaide, 2020).

14 There is a considerable literature on this area. See, in particular, S Piggin and R Linder, The Fountain of Public Prosperity: evangelical Christians in Australian history 1740–1914 (Clayton, Victoria, 2018).

15 Charles Perry, Bishop of Melbourne, kept a diary of the conference discussion. It is now held in the archives of the Diocese of Melbourne.

16 William Tyrrell to Joshua Watson, 26 May 1852, University of Newcastle Library, Anglican Diocese of Newcastle archives, B6556.

17 G Best, Temporal Pillars: Queen Anne's bounty, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the Church of England (Cambridge, 1964).

18 Ex parte King (1861) 2 Legge 1307.

19 The consonance of the understanding of power between royal concepts and the bishops is well illustrated by the comment of James I at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604: ‘no bishop, no king’.

20 ‘Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia’, available at <>, accessed 23 October 2020.

21 Ibid, s 72: ‘Where any question arises as to the faith ritual ceremonial or discipline of this Church or as to the authorities powers rights and duties of bishops priests and deacons of this Church, or of any officer or member thereof, nothing in this Constitution shall prevent reference being made to the history of the Church of England in England to the same extent as such reference might have been made for the purposes of the Church of England in the dioceses of Australia and Tasmania immediately before the day on which this Constitution takes effect.’

22 The jurisdictional elements in this constitution are thus aimed at securing an ‘ordered ministry’ that will serve the purposes outlined in the Fundamental Declarations and guided by the Ruling Principles. More generally, one might say that the ordained are there to serve the purposes for which the institutions of the Church are established, as set out in the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles.

23 N Aroney, The Constitution of a Federal Commonwealth: the making and meaning of the Australian constitution (Cambridge, 2009).

24 It is worth noting the dates of most abuse. Royal Commission, Final Report, xvi, p 581: ‘The Anglican Church complaints data showed that 74 per cent of complaints made to Anglican Church dioceses involved alleged child sexual abuse that commenced in the period from 1950 to 1989 inclusive. The largest proportion of first-alleged incidents of child sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s (226 complaints, or 25 per cent of all complaints with known dates).’

25 Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, final report available at <>, accessed 23 October 2020.

26 Royal Commission, Final Report, xvi, p 584: ‘The Anglican Church complaints data showed that of alleged perpetrators identified in complaints of child sexual abuse, 50 per cent were lay people and 43 per cent were ordained clergy (the religious status in respect of the other 7 per cent was unknown).’ Many of these complaints referred to abuse in schools with mainly lay staff, which probably accounts for the large proportion of lay perpetrators: ‘Historically, Anglican schools have had a high proportion of lay teachers relative to other schools affiliated with religious organisations. The Anglican Church complaints data showed that of all complaints regarding non-residential Anglican schools, 8 per cent involved alleged perpetrators who were ordained clergy and 86 per cent involved lay people. For residential schools operated by the Anglican Church, 21 per cent of complaints involved ordained clergy as the alleged perpetrator and 69 per cent involved lay people.’ Of the clergy perpetrators, probably around 29 per cent occurred at a place of worship, that is in the parishes.

27 Ibid, p 752.

28 Ibid, p 33. See also p 532: ‘We also heard evidence that suggested that a culture of clericalism in the Anglican Church may have discouraged survivors and others from reporting sexual abuse, including reporting to police.’ The ‘Study of reported child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church’, 2009, refers to six issues, but a number of these issues contain secondary matters which I have separately identified.

29 Royal Commission, Final Report, xvi, p 755.

30 Furthermore, the recommendations are of a kind generally applied to ‘profession standards’ in other places such as bank corporations.

31 Royal Commission, Final Report, xvi, p 28, emphasis added.

32 Ibid, p 33.

33 Mason, ‘Clergy status’, p 10: ‘Whatever its essence, clerical status confers liturgical and other authority that is widely respected, unduly so according to the Royal Commission. Subject to licensing, it also offers portability across dioceses, across the world, and across denominations.’

34 Royal Commission, Final Report, xvi, p 738. They also refer to Faithfulness in Service and Safe Ministry Training Benchmarks from General Synod, which refers to ‘positional power within ministry [and] non ministry settings’. In doing so I presume they mean to imply that the matter is being addressed. The 2009 report to General Synod makes no reference to ‘positional power’.

35 General David Morrison, who acknowledged it was first said by General David Hurley (now Governor General) when he was Chief of the Defence Force.

36 See Mason, ‘Clergy status’, p 8.

37 Blackford, R, The Tyranny of Opinion: conformity and the future of liberalism (London, 2019)Google Scholar.

38 MacIntyre, A, After Virtue: a study in moral theory (Notre Dame, IN, 1984)Google Scholar; MacIntyre, A, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN, 1988)Google Scholar; MacIntyre, A, Three rival versions of moral enquiry: encyclopaedia, genealogy, and tradition (Notre Dame, IN, 1990)Google Scholar.

39 There is an obvious qualification to this. The Church is a community that derives its existence from the initiative of God in Christ. There is, as Stephen Neill once put it, ‘a divine dimension’. We might say in relation to the earliest Christians that the Church exists as a part of the kingdom of Jesus that is not of this world and is called to live according to the virtues or values of that kingdom. As such, any practices or institutions are subject to this fundamental reality. The institutions are not absolute, but contingent on this greater truth of the kingdom of Jesus.

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