Orphanage Compo Vow
Adelaide Now [Australia]
November 12, 2006
The Catholic Church has moved to settle dozens of complaints for physical and sexual abuse lodged by former residents of the Goodwood Orphanage.
In a major development in the long-running issue, the Archdiocese of Adelaide and the Sisters of Mercy, the Irish order of nuns which ran the orphanage, have set up a formal program to deal with the complaints and resultant compensation claims.
The program is aimed at avoiding costly, drawn-out court action with abuse victims; and is modelled on similar, successful "restorative justice" programs in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Under the program the Archdiocese is inviting former residents to lodge complaints about their treatment at the orphanage which may have included physical and sexual abuse, hardship and deprivation.
Archdiocese of Adelaide Chancellor Jane Swift said each complaint would be assessed individually and the church response may include a range of services and support, financial compensation and an invitation for a pastoral meeting with Church representatives.
It was expected there would be "no more than 40 or 50" individual cases relating to orphanage ex-residents.
Most were expected to be instances of physical abuse and deprivation. Only one case so far involves alleged sexual abuse.
"The Sisters of Mercy were committed to providing the children with as good an upbringing as was feasible within their physical, financial and spiritual capacities," Chancellor Swift said. "I know of so many Sisters who worked tirelessly and caringly for their charges and formed lifelong friendships.
"However, there is no doubt that institutional life could never take the place of a caring family environment and, tragically, we know that abuses have occurred.
"The Church has a moral and civil obligation to do what it can to redress any abuse.
"I hope this program will be received in the spirit in which it is offered to the former residents."
Chancellor Swift said an independent panel of barristers was being finalised to assess each case and would begin its work shortly.
"We will go with what their assessment in each case says," she said.
A telephone helpline – 1800 139 020 – has been established for former residents to call to seek information.
The Sisters of Mercy ran Goodwood orphanage from 1890 until it closed in 1975. Residents included orphans, British child migrants from England during and following World War II, and children placed in institutional care because of family hardship.
Numerous former residents have contacted the Catholic Church since evidence of the abuse was tabled in the British House of Commons in 1997.
Law firm Duncan Basheer Hannon has launched a class action involving about 20 former residents with negotiations occurring for the past two years.
Lawyer Peter Humphries yesterday welcomed the program and will meet church officials tomorrow to discuss it in detail.
"I am pleased the Catholic Church has worked this through to the point they have now been able to put forward a comprehensive proposal for resolution of these claims," Mr Humphries said.
"I think there are a number of points that are going to need further negotiation, but I am hopeful we are going to be able to achieve a compromise at some point in the near future".
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