The Anglican Diocese of Tasmania has voted to sell 108 properties, including 76 church buildings, to fund its $8.6 million involvement in the national redress scheme.
After several hours of debate, the church’s Synod almost unanimously voted to pass a motion to sell the properties.
The Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, Dr Richard Condie said the vote was an historic moment in the diocese’s history.
“I feel quite emotional about this, because it’s a very big decision we’ve made,” he said.
“I know the implications it has for many people who have a great affection for their buildings – I’ve been driven all along by compassion for survivors of sexual abuse.”
About 90 per cent of the clergy at the meeting and 80 per cent of the laity, non-clergy Synod representatives, voted in favour of the motion to sell the church properties.
One Synod member to vote against the motion was Hamilton parishioner Ron Sonners, whose church is on the list for sale.
“The wounds we’ve had … [are] only just healing...we’re only just now getting young people and children back to our churches,” he said.
“[The decision] does not shake my faith one bit, but it does make it hard to build the faith of others that we need to reach out to.”
Individual parishes will now have an opportunity to appeal the sale of their church buildings and church resources will be offered to all churches who appeal.
There have been 200 people in the room today and that is about the number of people who were sexually abused by the Anglican Church in Tasmania.The Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, Dr Richard Condie
Bishop Condie said the sale of the church properties will open up an avenue for about 200 sexual abuse survivors to join the national redress scheme – roughly the same amount of people at the Synod meeting.
“There have been 200 people in the room today and that is about the number of people who were sexually abused by the Anglican Church in Tasmania,” he said.
“It is a horrifying problem and what we’ve done today is make a significant sacrifice so that those people will be able to access redress and provide, justice, support and recognition for the damage that’s been done in their lives.”
An outpouring of emotion was seen during the meeting, with several rural parishioners pleading for people to vote against the motion.
The vast majority of the buildings chosen for sale by the diocese were in rural areas and considered to be unsustainable going into the future.
In a fiery speech, a parishioner from Swansea suggested that wealthier parishes should sell their church buildings instead.
“The demoralisation and emasculation of small parishes is counter-productive to a lived gospel,” he said.
“I think it is theologically spurious and indefensible to value the faith of some over others.”
While several people spoke against the motion, support for the Anglican Church to join the redress scheme was unanimous.
One survivor of sexual abuse, and current Anglican rector, voiced his opposition to sale of the listed church buildings.
He recognised the need to join the redress scheme, but said the issue of parish sustainability should be separated from the process.
“The sight of a physical structure built in the name of the Jesus shouts Christianity,” he said.
“They need to be saved, not sold.
“If we can raise money through any other deeds it must be done.”
Diocese general manager James Oakley emphasised that the churches chosen for sale were selected through an evidence-based screening process.
"The misconception is that we sat down and came up with a bunch of criteria plucked out the air and said, 'these parishes are unsustainable and so we will target them'," he said.
"It's simply not the case - criteria was derived from research from around the world in the Anglican community, the UK and Newcastle in Australia.
“We need to look objectively on the evidence to ascertain which buildings are surplus to reqiurement and which are likely to become [surplus to requirement].”
Mr Oakley also addressed another common catchcry from people opposed to the sale – that the church should find another way to fund its involvement in the redress scheme.
The church is expected to collect about $20 million from the sale of the properties, but only $4.7 million will be put toward the redress scheme.
We want to allow ministry to continue across this state and we don’t want to see areas of devastation.Diocese general manager James Oakley
The remainder of the sale takings will go toward parishes affected by the property sales to ensure they remain in operation even without a church building.
“We want a light touch on ministry and mission,” Mr Oakley said.
“We want to allow ministries to continue across this state and we don’t want to see areas of devastation.”
The church expects to spend $6.4 million of its contribution to the redress scheme in the first three years of its 10-year duration.