Boost for redress scheme as Catholic Church opts in

The Australian

May 30, 2018

By John Ferguson

The Catholic Church will formally opt in to the $4 billion child abuse redress scheme in the first major declaration from the faith’s new head of bishops.

Catholic Church leaders have written to Social Services Minister Dan Tehan declaring the move, which is a significant fillip for the national scheme.

Once all states and territories have opted into the scheme and federal law is enacted, the church will establish an agency to enable all church bodies to interact with the scheme’s national operator.

It is possible that, with so many different branches of the church, the church entities will sign up at various different times during the next two years.

The new Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge was a joint signatory of the letter to Mr Tehan with Catholic Religious Australia president Sister Ruth Durick.

“We support the Royal Commission’s recommendation for a national redress scheme, administered by the commonwealth, and we are keen to participate in it,’’ they said.

“We recognise that redress will not take away a survivor’s pain, but hope that it can provide some practical assistance in the journey towards recovery from abuse.

“Once the scheme is initiated, we are committed to providing redress to survivors who were abused within the Catholic Church.

“Given the diverse structure of the Catholic Church, Catholic officials have been working with the commonwealth government to enable church authorities to work effectively with the independent National Redress Scheme Operator.

“We are grateful for the commonwealth’s support in helping create the best possible solution to simplify the process for survivors who will seek redress from a Catholic institution.’’

Archbishop Coleridge was recently appointed president of the bishops’ conference as his predecessor Denis Hart from Melbourne is due to retire as an archbishop.

The scheme will provide up to $150,000 in redress to proven victims but with a lower burden of proof compared with the courts.

The scheme will require participants to release offending institutions from civil liability for the abuse but in turn will enable them to receive a one-off payment or an additional top-up payment if any original redress were deemed inadequate.

Labor backed a $200,000 cap, in line with the royal commission recommendation, but the federal government and major states believe $150,000 will be as high as the scheme can go.

The key number will be the average cost of each claim, which is likely to be about $75,000.

The scheme bears significant similarities with the original Catholic systems set up in the 1990s and has not been embraced by some victim groups.

The key difference is a greater level of independence and higher payouts, coupled with relatively low standards of proof that abuse occurred.

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