PORT FAIRY (AUSTRALIA)
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]
August 26, 2021
By Matt Neal
Two men who were abused by a paedophile priest in regional Victoria in the 1960s have reached landmark settlement agreements with the Catholic Church.
- Coffey, who died in 2013, was convicted of child sex abuse in 1999
- The settlements were not part of the 1999 prosecution against Coffey
- The two men who have received compensation say the money won’t erase the scars of his “sadistic, domineering” abuse
The two abuse survivors were abused by Father Bryan Coffey between 1965 and 1968 while he served as assistant priest in Port Fairy, in south-west Victoria.
The ABC understands the settlements are the first to be made in relation to Coffey, but about a dozen other victims have begun legal proceedings to seek compensation for his actions.
Coffey, who died in 2013, was convicted in 1999 of sexually abusing children, with the charges including abuse perpetrated while he was in Port Fairy.
However, the two matters the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat has settled out of court this week were not part of the 1999 criminal proceedings and have never been prosecuted.
It is not known how much each man will receive in the settlements, but in April the Ballarat diocese and the Christian Brothers agreed to pay $1.5 million to a man who was abused as a boy by three paedophile priests, including Gerald Ridsdale.
In 2019 the Ballarat diocese was ordered to pay up to $3m, including costs, to another abuse survivor of Ridsdale.
‘They choose to fight’
One of the Coffey settlements relates to a man known as PFS, who sought compensation from Bishop Paul Bird as nominated defendant for the Ballarat diocese, as well as the Trustees of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan as nominated defendant for the Sisters of the Good Samaritans of the Order of Saint Benedict.
PFS was sexually and physically assaulted by Coffey while he was a student at St Patrick’s Parish Primary School in 1968.
He said he was relieved “the legal process is over”, but expressed concern that he and other survivors were being fought every step of the way by the Catholic Church.
“I am happy with the outcome and wish the same for the other victims,” PFS said.
But he said the money would not really change anything.
“There is no real closure — the impact of the abuse is still there and will never go away,” PFS said.
“I am extremely disappointed at the top of the Catholic system. Why are they fighting the victims?
“They know so much about what happened but instead of helping us, they choose to fight.”
‘Sadistic, domineering’ abuser
MJG was sexually abused between 1965 and 1967 at St Joseph’s Church in Yambuk and St Patrick’s Church in Port Fairy by Coffey.
The abuse began when MJG was seven years old.
“Father Coffey is a sadistic, domineering c*** for inflicting humiliation on a seven-year-old,” he said.
“The money won’t change that — I’m bitter, angry and twisted.”
MJG said the abuse has stayed with him and “left a bad taste in my mouth”.
“I used to imagine torching the joint,” he said.
The fight continues
Coffey was moved by the diocese in 1971 from Port Fairy to Ouyen in north-west Victoria.
Another civil compensation case related to Coffey’s abuse of a boy in Ouyen in 1973 and 1974 will return to the Supreme Court next week.
The Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and the Trustees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph have admitted liability in that matter.
Ken Cush and Associates solicitor Sangeeta Sharmin, who was part of the team representing PFS and MJG, said it should not be necessary for victims to fight so hard for compensation.
“These institutions need to take ownership for the offending of Father Coffey and it is now time to step up and show some leadership and do the right thing for all other victims,” Ms Sharmin said.
“The legal process should occur in a timely and respectful manner, with complete discovery made of all relevant documents, offers of support made to the victim and liability admitted where appropriate at an early stage — not on the eighth day of trial.
“While we celebrate the fact that justice has been achieved for these two victims, we also need to reflect on the great injustice they have suffered since the 1960s.
“Survivors, victims and families have been fighting to be heard for so long.”
A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat said the diocese would not comment on the settlements.