Historical child sexual abuse victim speaks out against sacking of “supportive” Anglican school principal

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

When Grant* first heard about a school principal’s commitment to refund school tuition fees to former students who had been sexually abused at a prestigious Brisbane school, he says he felt as though, “finally – someone cared”.

Although Grant was not a victim of abuse at that same educational institution – St Paul’s School in Bald Hills – his own historical child sexual abuse did happen at the hands of a teacher in the Anglican School system in Queensland.

“Seeing one school principal making a statement by handing back money that families had forked out for education at this school that ended up being a place where some students were sexually abused by a staff member was huge,” Grant told The Bursar.

This week, the news that a “toxic clash” with the Anglican Church has now seen the award-winning school principal of St Paul’s School ousted from his role, is, Grant says “utterly deflating” for Anglican Church abuse victims everywhere.

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Financial redress is a meaningful way to recognise victims

Grant’s own abuse occurred during the 1980s. He says that the decision by Dr Paul Browning to offer some financial redress to victims of abuse at the school – abuse that happened during the 1980s and 1990s, long before Dr Browning’s appointment in 2008 – was a powerful statement that victims of child sexual abuse were not forgotten.

“Receiving financial compensation as part of an official redress scheme is a kind of gesture that is about more than money,” Grant told The Bursar. “Money won’t fix what happened. But it’s the acknowledgement that matters. It’s a way of showing that someone was responsible and that the impact on the victims meant something.”

But now, with insiders claiming Dr Browning’s commitment to refund tuition fees of former students sexually abused at St Paul’s was a trigger for the current hostility, Dr Browning will finish up on Friday 15 September, after what has been described as a “spectacular implosion” of his relationship with the Anglican Schools Commission (ASC) and its current chair, Bishop Jeremy Greaves.

The news was announced to the school community in a statement from Dr Browning, at 4pm on Wednesday 13 September.

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The school council – which had previously unanimously endorsed Dr Browning’s contract renewal for another five years from 2024 – had also already been sacked by the Church.

In his statement, Dr Browning told student, parents and his professional colleagues, of his “great disappointment” that the Church had told him to leave – despite receiving an “incredibly affirming” review of his performance in 2022 by an education research firm approved by the ASC, as well as a recommendation by the former school council that he should remain in the role as principal until 2028.

“I am incredibly sad for the members of the school community,” Dr Browning said.

“They have been a remarkable group of people who have helped steer the school to what it is today.

“I particularly wish to acknowledge those past students who were victims of sexual abuse while they attended the school either in the 1980s or 1990s who have since had their confidence and trust in the school restored.

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“I have been humbled to walk with many of those wounded and traumatised men and their families.”

Rebuilding trust after Royal Commission

Dr Browning was named (non-government) School Principal of the Year in the 2018 Australian Education Awards – an honour that was bestowed on him largely because of his active role in helping rebuild a culture of trust, following damning findings of the 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse over the school’s historical inaction against paedophile counsellor Kevin Lynch and paedophile music teacher Gregory Robert Knight.

Unlike Brisbane Grammar School, which was also criticised in the Royal Commission, St Paul’s made the decision to refund tuition fees to victims – a decision supported by the Anglican Church at the time.

Five years ago, however, the Church decided the fees refund should be paid directly by the school.

To meet that demand, Dr Browing suggested the school could raise money for child sex abuse survivors by monetising a learning tool, Realms of Thinking, before the ASC rejected the idea.

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In a letter to parents, Mr Greaves said he would not explain the specific reasons behind the sacking, saying it would not be appropriate to do so, and said the Church and Dr Browning had a number of “disagreements” over the way the school should be run.

Allan Hird was a member of the St Paul’s council that was removed by Bishop Greaves on 18 August this year and said he was disgusted by the termination of Dr Browning.

“Paul has pushed hard to look after victims, but the Anglican Schools Commission has pushed back,” Mr Hird said.

Yesterday, students at St Paul’s School wore their uniforms inside-out in protest, calling on the ASC to reverse its decision and reinstate Dr Browning as principal.

“A kick in the guts”

For Grant, hearing the news about the decision to sack Dr Browning – a man many victims of historical abuse in Queensland see as an advocate and ally – “feels like a kick in the guts”.

“There are so many victims of abuse within the Anglican Church school system across Australia,” he says. “I’m just one of them – and I definitely can’t speak for everyone. But when a man takes action to do something that is designed to say sorry, I don’t understand why a man like that is then just cast aside. It feels like it’s an attack on victims too.”

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Support is available:

Blue Knot Foundation Helpline and Redress Support Service: 1300 657 380

Lifeline (24/7 crisis support): 13 11 14

Bravehearts: 1800 272 831

*Grant chose to use another name to protect his identify.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live