As the Anglican Church in Queensland
continues to weather a storm over its handling of allegations
of sexual abuse and the Governor-General contemplates his
future over his role in that saga, the 7:30 Report
has unearthed details of another church scandal in
It is a shocking story of abuse of boys by an
Anglican priest in a small country town, a story that carries
with it the now-familiar theme of denial that protected the
perpetrator and enabled him to continue to prey on new
It raises questions about obstruction of a
police investigation that is now being probed by the Ethical
Standards Division of the Victoria Police.
And in its
wake there is a trail of bitterness and broken lives, and once
again a sense of betrayal by the church.
has this exclusive report.
HEATHER EWART: This could be
a quiet Sunday morning in any country town.
Seymour, population 6,000 and about 100 kilometres north of
Melbourne, is different.
For almost 40 years it's
harboured a terrible secret that's wrecked lives and split the
MALE RESIDENT: Horrendous.
worked on many cases over the years, obviously.
one is the only one that's actually made me physically
FEMALE RESIDENT 1: I've got to live in this
Other families have to live in this
This wrong has to be righted.
RESIDENT 2: It's caused a lot of bitterness, a lot of hurt,
friendships being broken.
HEATHER EWART: It all began
at the Anglican Church in Anzac Parade, with the arrival of
Father Alan Sapsford in 1966.
For the next 30 years, he
was the parish priest here and was widely regarded as a great
family man who encouraged youth into the church.
was leading a double life, preying on young altar boys, making
them his sexual victims.
FATHER PAUL WALLIKER, RETIRED
ANGLICAN PRIEST: My gut reaction is there's at least 30, at
least 30, but it could be any figure from there to
I'm sure that there's a number of people who have
It's remarkable that there are a
number of suicides or unexplained deaths amongst former
servers from Christ Church, Seymour.
Detectives at the local police station thought so too, and
last year began asking questions.
Anger in the town was
building and statutory declarations were collected from local
priests, parishioners, and two of the victims who alleged
repeated sexual abuse.
In late September, Father Alan
Sapsford was arrested and charged.
You know, or knew,
the mother of one of the victims --
PARISHIONER: Very well.
HEATHER EWART: ...who is no
What did she tell you?
She told me on a parish camp away that her son had been
sexually abused by Alan Sapsford and that he was a paedophile,
and I saw the dreadful hurt and the anguish in that lady for
She told me that it had happened in the
vestry, that it had happened in the parish office while his
wife and children were actually watching television in the
HEATHER EWART: Was that shocking to
DOT BROCK: I was horrified, absolutely horrified
that this man that many, many people trusted, had read Gospel,
stories to us, had been doing this to a young
HEATHER EWART: That young boy went on to become an
Anglican priest himself, and after years of secrecy named Alan
Sapsford to the church hierarchy in 1996.
ALAN SAPSFORD, JULY 1996: "The tragedy is the past cannot be
HEATHER EWART: ... Father Sapsford said, in
his letter to Bishop Richardson of the Wangaratta
REVEREND ALAN SAPSFORD, JULY 1996: "I am
deeply ashamed and revolted by my own filthy
HEATHER EWART: Father Paul Walliker was
asked to counsel the victim.
HEATHER EWART: Then a compromise was
cobbled together, that for the parish's purposes, Father
Sapsford would be retiring for ill-health reasons, instead of
the truth being disclosed.
Well, why did that
FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: There was some
intervention by the then Archbishop of Melbourne who would not
believe the situation.
The Archbishop had been given
copies of all the material.
The upshot of that was that Archbishop Raynor, the
Archbishop of Melbourne, gave Alan Sapsford a limited licence
to operate in one parish in Melbourne, but Alan subsequently
used that as an entrance to be able to work all over the
HEATHER EWART: Which meant he was
still going to be a danger to other boys in various
FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: That's correct,
HEATHER EWART: The Archbishop at the time, Keith
Raynor, is now retired and living in Adelaide.
holidays and could not be contacted for comment.
then-Bishop of Wangaratta now lives in England.
those left behind to pick up the pieces here in Seymour are
furious the matter was never made public and that local
parishioners were left in the dark.
This mother of a
victim doesn't want to reveal her identity, and for this
report is going by the name of Stella.
Her son was also
an altar boy, molested by Alan Sapsford from the age of
Do you feel betrayed by the church about this and
the way it handled it?
that had we known sooner in 1996 or before 1996 - and I am
well aware that the church hierarchy were aware - as parents
we could have taken the action on our own and gone to the
police, and our children would have been spared.
RIGHT REVEREND DAVID FARRER, BISHOP OF WANGARATTA: With
hindsight it might well have been handled
I think my predecessor took the action he
believed to be right at the time and was very decisive in that
But I think with our current knowledge, we might
have done things differently, yes.
HEATHER EWART: Why
on earth did the Archbishop at the time that all this surfaced
do as he did?
Does that make you very
FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: Um, no, because I've seen
it happen far too often before.
I've seen the church
deal with people on the basis of who they know and who their
friends are in high places, and if you have the right friends,
then you're safe, and if you're not, well, you get hung out to
HEATHER EWART: Stella feels she and her son and
many others were left to hang out to dry.
suspicions about Father Alan Sapsford began to surface last
year, she asked her son if the priest had ever touched
STELLA: He was very quiet at first.
became agitated and said, "Mum, never.
Then his eyes filled with tears and he started
to get more agitated, became angry and started going around
the house and calling him "a bastard".
they've got to get the bastard".
HEATHER EWART: By this
time, a small group of parishioners had had enough and decided
to take matters into their own hands, demanding that the
current bishop call for a church inquiry at the highest
For several years now, Father Paul Walliker had
known the truth about Alan Sapsford, since he'd counselled the
first victim to come forward - the one that's now a
FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: I guess the thing is the
denial by the church to actually take action, the denial of
the church to actually say, "Look, we have
"We've done things wrong.
"We need to
fix this up."
HEATHER EWART: But before a church
inquiry could bring down its findings, the police had stepped
The parish of Christ Church had divided down the
middle - half in support of Alan Sapsford and half
Tell me about the
harassing phone calls?
DOT BROCK: Well, I know there's
Some have been -- rather foul language
STELLA: I can't describe to you how it
feels, for instance, to be yelled at, called names, called a
slut, that my children deserve it, he was a good
HEATHER EWART: Stella went to the police last
year, not only to talk about her son, but to complain about
intimidation and physical threats to her family.
were two detectives she trusted, but she struck a hitch
whenever she tried to contact them.
STELLA: When I was
making telephone calls trying to leave messages, I was thrown
off the scent.
HEATHER EWART: Who threw you off the
STELLA: It was a man.
I believe his name
is Lance Marke.
He would give me the
HEATHER EWART: Why would Lance Marke want
to block this?
Do you have any reason
STELLA: I now know that he was friends with Alan
HEATHER EWART: Detective Sergeant Lance Marke
is in the criminal investigation unit in Seymour.
spread around town among parishioners and the victims'
families to be careful if they were going to ring with
complaints and he answered the phone.
spokesman in Melbourne has confirmed there have been
allegations about the way the investigation was
Those allegations are now being examined by
the police Ethical Standards Department.
The trial of
Alan Sapsford was set to start next month, but he died
unexpectedly in March.
He's buried at Avenel, close to
the parish where he spent most of his working life.
funeral was held not in a church but in the local hall, and
the bishop was denied entry by the family.
still hold a thick file on Alan Sapsford, with written
evidence and confessions of his abuse.
Some of the
parishioners, victims and their families feel they've been
At least one victim has told me he
wants compensation from the church and has written to the
Bishop of Wangaratta seeking a meeting.
happened yet because the Bishop says the victim concerned is
working through lawyers, so the church too needs to follow
THE RIGHT REVEREND DAVID FARRER: My
preferred procedure is to find an independent person - we have
access to independent people - to investigate any such
situations and we will look at them with sympathy with the
advice of somebody who is quite independent, both from the
church and the individual.
HEATHER EWART: As for those
parishioners who have dared to speak out, they have one
overriding hope - that the church hierarchy sits up and takes
STELLA: It's a criminal act and it has to stop,
and it has to stop in all churches, not only this
DOT BROCK: It needs a big broom and it needs to be
swept clean so we can feel safe in a church.
PAUL WALLIKER: My motive is very simple - I don't want this
ever to happen