Disgraced bishop stripped of OBE

By RENEE FORD renee.ford@dailyexaminer.com.au

DISGRACED former Grafton Bishop Donald Shearman has been forced to hand over his Order of the British Empire (OBE).

The retired Anglican Bishop was defrocked in August 2004 for sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old girl, Beth Heinrich, in the NSW town of Forbes in the 1950s.

He was awarded the OBE for outstanding services to the church in 1978.

The priest, who was married, rose to become Australia's most senior Anglican Bishop before Ms Heinrich came forward in 2002 with the revelations.

Ms Heinrich refused to be named publicly during the investigation by a church tribunal in Brisbane that resulted in Shearman losing his holy orders.

However, she shared the contents of hundreds of letters sent to her during their 40-year relationship during an interview on ABC Television's Australian Story in 2005.

It is believed Mr Shearman was the first bishop worldwide to be defrocked for sex offences and the first Australian forced to hand back an imperial award without a criminal conviction.

Dean of Grafton Peter Catt said it was just another 'sad chapter in the sad story of Donald Shearman'.

"Mr Shearman had very much embedded himself in the community and he was much loved," Father Catt said.

The stripping of Mr Shearman's OBE seemed inevitable after his defrocking in 2004 which traumatised many of his followers, Fr Catt said.

"This is minor compared to the trauma caused by the original revelation that came out on Australian Story," he said.

Despite the controversy, Fr Catt was confident 'church numbers have held their own'.

"I think people realise that individuals do things that most other individuals don't," Fr Catt said.

"You think you know someone and you discover that you don't ... it was very traumatic for a lot of people."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma intervened by writing to Buckingham Palace after he was lobbied by a NSW supporter of Ms Heinrich.

Allegations of the sexual abuse experienced by Ms Heinrich helped push former governor-general Peter Hollingworth from office in 2003.

The Anglican Church formally apologised to Ms Heinrich in August 2004 for Mr Shearman's conduct and paid her compensation of $100,000.

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