New bishop for diocese in abuse inquiry


The first woman to lead an Anglican diocese in Australia says the church has made the cultural changes needed to address the issue of child sexual abuse.

The incoming Anglican Bishop of Grafton, the Reverend Dr Sarah Macneil, says her new diocese has been up front about admitting failings in how it handled abuse allegations.

On the same day as her appointment was announced, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse began hearings into how the Grafton Diocese responded to abuse allegations at a Lismore children's home.

Her appointment follows former bishop of Grafton Keith Slater's resignation and apology for mishandling abuse claims at the North Coast Children's Home.

Dr Macneil, who will be the first female in Australia appointed to lead a Anglican diocese, says the timing of her appointment was not deliberate.

"We actually wondered on whether we could hold off the announcement of our appointment a little bit longer but came to the conclusion that you can't," she told AAP on Monday.

"You get to a point where you can't sit on something for any longer. It would leak.

"But we certainly didn't want my appointment in any way to distract from the royal commission."

Dr Macneil agrees with the Grafton Diocese's past admissions on its failings in dealing with abuse allegations.

"Well, I think the diocese had been absolutely clear in its public statements that it believes it has not handled them well," she said.

"They have been right up front about that."

Dr Macneil, who is senior associate priest at the ACT's Holy Covenant, believes the cultural change surrounding abuse within the church has happened.

"I believe we are past that," she said.

Once Dr Macneil takes over the reins on March 1, she plans to consult with the community on what can be improved.

"I will work with the people who are in the diocese who have been working on these issues together," she said.

"And with the rest of the Anglican Church as well.

"This will be about how we as Anglicans around Australia respond to these issues."

Dr Macneil said she and the diocese would look at the commission's recommendation but current processes for dealing with abuse allegations were best practice.

The incoming bishop could also see a challenge on another front: being a female in a traditionally male-occupied role.

"Some people have some objections. They believe that certain readings of the Bible suggest that women shouldn't be ordained. Some people read it quite differently and believe that we should," she said.

"So it's not absolutely an uncontested space."

Dr Macneil, a former Dean of Adelaide and archdeacon in the Canberra and Goulburn Diocese, will move to the Grafton Diocese with her husband.