Sex story rocks diocese

THE ANGLICAN Bishop of Grafton said he was 'extremely saddened' that the relationship which led to former Bishop Donald Shearman being defrocked was rekindled during Mr Shearman's time as Bishop of the Diocese.

The Right Reverend Keith Slater commented after Beth Heinrich appeared on ABC TV's Australian Story on Monday night, detailing her relationship with Mr Shearman, which began when she was just 15.

"The account of events that has been revealed through Australian Story will be devastating for many people from the Diocese of Grafton," Bishop Slater said.

"Donald Shearman, during his time as Bishop of Grafton Diocese, was greatly admired by many people, within and beyond the church, and many will have counted Donald Shearman as their friend as well as bishop, priest and pastor.

"This revelation, now at such a public level, will bring untold degrees of disillusionment, anger and grief.

"I recognise and feel deeply for the many people who will feel this disclosure intensely."

However, Bishop Slater also congratulated Ms Heinrich for her courage.

"I cannot make apologies for the promises he may have ma de," he said.

"I can only say that I am profoundly sorry that this happened during his time as Bishop of the Diocese of Grafton."

Beth Heinrich was just 15 years old when the relationship started.

The now 65-year-old nurse told ABC TV's Australian Story that the priest had promised her a future with him.

Last year, Ms Heinrich refused to be named publicly in the investigation by a church tribunal in Brisbane which resulted in Mr Shearman losing his holy orders.

But on Monday night, she shared the contents of hundreds of letters sent to her during their 40-year relationship.

Former Grafton Bishop Richard Hurtford, who was Mr Shearman's dean while he was in Bathurst, told Australian Story that Ms Heinrich gave him access to 'documents and corroborative material' which he had never seen before.

"She walked me through her journey and it was gut wrenching," Bishop Hurford said.

"The letters are a potent symbol of betrayal. She has, it appears, a few hundred of them.

"It beggars my belief that a person in his position as a leader in the Christian church could go down such a path with someone who is investing herself, in not just believing him, but the whole God spin on the stuff he was writing."

Mr Shearman's relationship with Ms Heinrich started when she was a boarder at an Anglican hostel in Forbes in the 1950s.

"Whenever his wife was away, padre used to get me to lie naked on their bed with him or else in front of the fire in their lounge room," she said.

"He got me to read a book called Love in Marriage, which was about sexual techniques and he said: 'This is the way it should be. This is what God wants it to be'."

Ms Heinrich was later thrown out of the hostel for promiscuity by the then Bishop Shearman, but when she turned to him 21 years later to escape a violent marriage, he swore he wanted to be with her.

It was the allegations of Ms Heinrich's sexual abuse which helped push former governor-general Peter Hollingworth from office in 2003, after he appeared to condone the relationship between a priest and the then 15-year-old girl.

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