Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]
August 17, 2021
By Matt Neal
- At least 14 abuse survivors and victims are pursuing compensation over abuse by now-deceased paedophile priest Bryan Coffey
- The Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and the Trustees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph have admitted liability in the first of the civil cases related to Coffey
- Coffey, who died in 2013, was found guilty of abusing children in 1999
Two Catholic organisations have admitted liability in the Supreme Court related to the actions of a now-deceased paedophile priest.
An expert says the admission removes a massive legal hurdle for abuse survivors and victims of Father Bryan Coffey who are now seeking compensation.
Coffey, who died in 2013, was found guilty in 1999 of 14 charges relating to indecent assaults on seven boys and one girl that took place across four Victorian parishes between 1960 and 1975.
Two civil cases are underway in the Supreme Court from abuse survivors seeking compensation for Coffey’s actions in the 1960s and 70s in Ouyen in north-west Victoria and Port Fairy in south-west Victoria.
The Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and the Trustees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph have admitted liability in the matter involving the abuse of a boy at Ouyen in 1973 and 1974 but not the case in Port Fairy.
Six more similar cases are lined up to proceed in the coming months relating to Coffey’s actions in Ouyen and Port Fairy, as well as the south-west Victorian communities of Terang and Yambuk.
The ABC understands there are at least six more cases involving Coffey that are in their early stages.
The list of named defendants on the court documents includes Bishop Paul Bernard Bird as the nominated defendant of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat, the Trustees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Mercy Support Limited, the Trustees of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and the Sisters of the Good Samaritans of the Order of Saint Benedict.
In all of the matters before the court, the plaintiffs allege the diocese and associated organisations knew or should have known that Coffey had sexually abused or was sexually abusing children.
It is the first time the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat has admitted liability in relation to the actions of Coffey.
The plaintiff in today’s case will still be expected to prove the level of “injury” Coffey’s actions caused, and the amount of compensation is yet to be decided by the court.
Removes legal hurdle
Judy Courtin, a lawyer who represents victims of institutional abuse, says the admission of liability “removes a huge hurdle” for abuse survivors.
“It’s a great victory,” Dr Courtin said.
“It’s a day where you really respect and take your hat off to the [abuse survivors].
“They’re the ones who’ve had to suffer and be completely re-traumatised by having to go through this process.
“It’s good news that others won’t have to go through these particular legal hurdles.
“It’s a vindication. Finally, these people can say at least partly they’re being heard and it’s being admitted.
“That’s huge because they’ve been denied forever and [the church] have fought it forever.”