Mother rejects ex-vicar's apology for abuse
The mother of a girl who was sexually abused by retired Nelson clergyman Alec Charles Brown has refused to accept his apology and request for forgiveness.
In the Nelson District Court yesterday, the girl's mother said the most devastating thing was that she couldn't erase the irreparable damage Brown caused her daughter.
Brown, 79, who was a vicar at the Anglican Church's Richmond parish until 1976 and more recently had volunteered as chaplain at Nelson Hospital, was sentenced to six months' home detention for an indecent act on a girl younger than 12, after an incident in Nelson in January this year.
Brown admitted putting his hand down the front of a girl's pants and touching her genital area after he was caught in the act by his wife. They have since separated.
He stood with his head bowed and eyes closed during the mother's statement.
"I trusted you as a mother," she said.
She said her daughter had previously been "normal and outgoing", but for weeks after telling her mum what had happened the girl had struggled to sleep, had bad dreams, and woke up early every morning.
She asked Brown how her daughter was ever going to be able to make sense of what he did to her. Her daughter's first kiss, first experiences of sexuality as a teenager, and ability to trust would likely be forever ruined, she told him.
Her daughter had initially tried to protect Brown out of a "misplaced sense of trust" by denying anything had happened, which was a huge burden for someone so young and innocent, she said.
When she eventually confessed what had happened to her, "she cried and cried like I have never seen her cry before or since", the mother said.
"She seemed to think she was in trouble, and that it was her fault.
‘You are the person to whom your feelings of guilt and shame belong," she told Brown.
His letter to the family, in which he asked for forgiveness, was "puerile" and "self-serving", she said.
She added that her employment had been financially affected, and that she had feared men and "viewed all men as paedophile" for some time after the incident was exposed.
Judge Tony Zohrab agreed with Crown prosecutor Sophie O'Donoghue, who said Brown displayed a lack of remorse and a "concerning lack of insight into the fact that he has done wrong by an extremely young child".
She said Brown had attempted to shift blame away from himself by suggesting that the girl was already sexually active and that she initiated the contact.
Any remorse Brown did show was a reflection of regret for the position he was in, rather than the harm he had caused the child and her family, she submitted.
The judge also accepted defence lawyer Gary Barkle's submission that Brown has "paid dearly for his actions, and one might suggest he has fallen farther than most".
Brown had suffered by having to surrender his licence from the church ministry. He had also lost almost all of his family, the judge said. "Effectively, your life has been dismantled."
Mr Barkle submitted that Brown's remorse was evidenced by his July guilty plea, at the first available opportunity.
He said the former minister had given a lot, in many positions, to the community and assisted throughout his time a lot of people in need.
Brown had no criminal history, and it was submitted that "how he has conducted his life is totally at odds with this offending".
Though it was "reprehensible and can't be called anything else" it was not the worst case of its kind to come before the courts, and that needed to be appreciated in sentencing, Mr Barkle said.
Judge Zohrab said Brown's crime was aggravated by the girl's vulnerability, their age disparity, and the fact there had been a "gross breach of trust".
"You were the responsible adult, she was the child," he said.
He ordered Brown to pay $10,000 in emotional harm reparation to the girl and her family.
He was sentenced to six months' home detention, and told to get help.
"It seems you have got some serious work to do if you are going to take responsibility for what you have done," Judge Zohrab said.
Outside of court, supporters of Brown's wife questioned the severity of the sentence, suggesting it was not long enough and calling him a "selfish bastard".
Nelson Anglican Centre diocesan secretary Ian Pask said after the sentencing that Brown had not been a paid clergyman since 1976, but had held honorary positions within the Nelson Anglican community since then.
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