Canberra, May 8 (Reuters): The British queen’s embattled representative in Australia denied today he had raped a woman in the 1960s, further fuelling the biggest controversy to hit the vice-regal office in three decades.
Governor-general Peter Hollingworth — who is facing calls to resign for mishandling child sex abuse complaints when he was an Anglican archbishop in the 1990s — said a woman had made the rape claims in a civil case before a Victoria state court. The woman, named today as 57-year-old Rosemarie Anne Jarmyn, died last month.
“I did not know this woman. I did not rape her. I did not sexually assault her. I deny absolutely that I have ever raped or in any way sexually assaulted any person,” Hollingworth said in televised statement. Hollingworth, 68, made no comment on his future as governor-general, the titular head of state in the former British colony, despite growing calls for him to step down from those who believe he has brought the office into disrepute.
While the conservative government declined to comment on the latest twist in the crisis, opposition Labour leader Simon Crean said Hollingworth was entitled to the presumption of innocence.
But the leader of the minor Australian Democrats, Andrew Bartlett, said this added to the need for Hollingworth to resign.
“Our concerns remain the same, and that is the damage that is being done to the office of the Australian governor-general means Peter Hollingworth must resign,” Bartlett said.
The governor-general represents the queen and, while the position is largely ceremonial, Hollingworth retains the power to sack a government.
The rape case bombshell came as Hollingworth’s future hangs in the balance.
A church inquiry last week found he had allowed a known paedophile to continue as a priest in the 1990s while he was Anglican Archbishop of the eastern city of Brisbane.
Hollingworth acknowledged he made an “error of judgment” but that has not calmed critics who regard the scandal as the biggest to hit the office since 1975 when then governor-general, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Labour government.
Hollingworth said the plaintiff in the civil suit alleged she was raped at a youth camp he attended in late 1965 or early 1966. He denied attending the camp.
Jarmyn, who was seeking compensation, alleged Hollingworth met her when she was aged 19 or 20 at a youth group in a church hall of the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo in Victoria.
But Hollingworth said he did not know the woman, had not attended any meeting at the hall in North Bendigo and had never held a position in the Diocese of Bendigo.
”I can only assume that the claims against me must have been made as a result of mistaken identity,” he said.
The court issued orders to suppress all identities and details in the case when it began this year but the suppression orders were lifted on Thursday at Hollingworth's request so he could make a statement.
”If it is pursued, I will vigorously defend myself against the allegations made against me,” Hollingworth said.
So far, Prime Minister John Howard has stood by the man he appointed, but opinion polls show more than three quarters of Australians want Hollingworth to quit.
Government ministers and Anglican bishops have suggested he resign. Howard is abroad, due to visit Australian troops in the Gulf, and is not due back in Australia until Saturday.
Last year Hollingworth rode out a furore over his handling of child sex abuse complaints within the church.