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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Queen's Man in Australia Gets Tangled in Scandal

CANBERRA, Australia -- Child sex abuse cover-up claims swirling around the British queen's representative in Australia exploded Thursday into a constitutional crisis as the prime minister rejected Labor Party calls for the firing of Governor-General Peter Hollingworth.

"I would be succumbing to the clamor of the mob ... if I acted as I have been asked to by the leader of the opposition," Prime Minister John Howard said.

The week-old controversy centered on Hollingworth's role in cover-ups of sex abuse by priests and church officials while he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane is casting a cloud over preparations for a state visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II due to start next week.

But Howard said the issue would not interfere with the royal visit.

"I think her majesty will have a successful visit and will be warmly received," he said.

Constitutional experts say the crisis is tarnishing the governor-general's office, could prove an embarrassment to the queen and moves the nation into uncharted constitutional waters.

"In some ways, it's become far more serious in a constitutional sense because the governor-general has lost the support of the alternative government," said George Williams, a professor of constitutional law at the University of New South Wales.

Hollingworth, who performs the head of state functions on behalf of the queen, met early Thursday with Howard and told the prime minister he was rejecting nationwide calls for him to go.

Less than an hour later, the opposition Labor Party turned up the heat on Hollingworth -- and Howard.

"I now believe it is in the best interests of the nation and the office of governor-general that the prime minister advise the queen to terminate Dr. Hollingworth's appointment," Labor leader Simon Crean said.

Hollingworth apologized Thursday for comments he made on national television Monday suggesting that a 14-year-old girl was not a victim of child sex abuse by an Anglican priest, but had seduced the priest.

"I thought I was talking about an adult relationship, and I want to make an unreserved apology to the woman concerned, to the whole Australian public," Hollingworth told reporters.

Hollingworth had attempted to rebut a string of allegations that he was complicit in covering up child sex abuse in his former archdiocese.

Commenting on an allegation that he refused to fire a bishop who had admitted sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl, Hollingworth enraged child-abuse workers when he said: "There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that, quite the contrary. My information is rather that it was the other way round."

The Australian Republican Movement sought to exploit the issue, criticizing a system where only the prime minister or the queen can remove the country's de facto head of state.

"Plainly, this is not good enough for a democratic country like Australia at the dawn of the new century," said group president Greg Barns.