On 28 May 2003 he resigned as governor-general as a result of criticism of his actions in an Anglican Church report. The report stated that he had mishandled allegations of sexual abuse made against an Anglican priest during his eleven year tenure as Archbishop of Brisbane.
Peter Hollingworth was born in Adelaide, South Australia and moved to Melbourne in 1940. After attending state primary schools he was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne. After completing his secondary school education he began work for BHP, an Australian mining company. Hollingworth apparently often spent his lunch hours in St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne where the idea of becoming a priest was first suggested to him.
Hollingworth was conscripted for National Service in 1953 and, after basic training at the RAAF base at Point Cook, Hollingworth began work in the Chaplain's Office after which he decided to test his vocation to the ministry. After matriculating in 1954 he enrolled at the University of Melbourne, residing at Trinity College (University of Melbourne) as a member of its School of Theology. He graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Licentiate of Theology. After ordination Hollingworth was appointed the Priest in Charge of St Mary's Church, North Melbourne, in a group ministry within the Melbourne Diocesan Centre. In 1964 he joined the Brotherhood of St Laurence, an independent Anglican welfare organisation, as Chaplain and Director of Youth and Children's Work, then as Director of Social Policy and Research. In 1990 he was appointed as Executive Director. He served with the Brotherhood of St Laurence for 25 years and, in that time, was involved in many other associated community and welfare bodies.
In 1976 Hollingworth was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and in 1988 he became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his work in church and community. As well as these secular honours he was elected as a canon of St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1980. He was consecrated as a bishop in 1985 and appointed as the Bishop in the Inner City. Before this he completed a Master of Arts degree in social work and wrote several books about his work with the poor which became educational texts.
In December 1989 Hollingworth was elected Archbishop of Brisbane. During the 1990s the Anglican Church in Queensland, along with most other churches around the world at the time, was confronted with various allegations of sexual misconduct. Hollingworth's handling of these issues as archbishop later gave rise to much controversy when he was governor-general.
Hollingworth was named on the inaugural list of Australian Living Treasures.
In May 2001, on the advice of the prime minister, John Howard, Queen Elizabeth II agreed to Hollingworth's appointment as Governor-General of Australia to succeed Sir William Deane. Following the announcement of his appointment Hollingworth stated that, although he retained his holy orders, as governor-general he would not use the title "Bishop" knowing that some Australians might misunderstand its meaning and intent. He also announced that he would not wear clerical attire during the term of his office. The appointment of an ordained person - and specifically Hollingworth - as governor-general attracted some negative media comment from the outset. Some claimed that the incumbent governor-general, Sir William Deane, had been popular with political opponents of the Howard government for his comments on social issues. Others pointed out that Hollingworth's previous record of working with the disadvantaged put him in a strong position to engage with Australian society across the spectrum of social need.
On 21 May 2001 Hollingworth was awarded the Lambeth degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. Hollingworth was awarded the doctorate in recognition of his research, publications, teaching and achievement in the field of Christian social ethics, social welfare and episcopal leadership. Although his Lambeth doctorate did not require a thesis it is not an honorary doctorate but a degree established by Royal Charter in the 16th century and awarded by successive Archbishops of Canterbury to those who were unable to attend university for the time demanded by a doctorate but who had met the standard academic requirements. Lambeth degrees are considered to be substantive degrees, awarded either by thesis or on the basis of already published works. Those awarded Lambeth doctorate degrees are entitled to use the title of "Doctor". In addition, Hollingworth already had six honorary doctorates from Australian universities.
On 29 June 2001, Hollingworth was sworn in as Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force. As the governor-general is the Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Australia, Hollingworth was appointed a Companion of the Order (AC) on 29 June 2001.