The British queen's representative in Australia and the country's titular head of state has agreed to step aside while rape allegations he vehemently denies are resolved, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday.
Governor-General Peter Hollingworth, a former archbishop, stunned Australia three days ago when he issued a public denial that he raped a girl at a church camp 40 years ago.
The rape case bombshell came as Hollingworth was already under pressure to resign from the largely ceremonial post in the former British colony after a church inquiry found he allowed a pedophile to remain a priest in the 1990s.
The unprecedented decision was taken after Howard talked to Hollingworth, 68, yesterday following his return from a whirlwind world tour and an administrator will be appointed in the interim.
The final days of Howard's trip were overshadowed by the biggest controversy to hit the governor-general's office since 1975 when then incumbent Sir John Kerr dismissed the Labour government of prime minister Gough Whitlam.
Howard said Hollingworth and he had agreed to deal initially with the rape allegations that emerged from a civil action for damages lodged earlier this year by Rosemarie Jarmyn, 57, known to her family as Annie. She committed suicide last month.
The governor-general would then decide what to do about the controversy over his alleged mishandling of child sex abuse complaints when he was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane.
Should Hollingworth eventually step aside for good, he would be the first to leave the 102-year office in disgrace.