Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese ordered to pay $1.9m to abuse survivor

WAtoday [East Perth, Western Australia]

June 9, 2022

By Jackson Graham

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne has been ordered to pay $1.9 million in damages to a former altar boy who was sexually abused by Victorian priest Desmond Gannon.

The victim brought the case against Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli, claiming the city’s Catholic Archdiocese was negligent and vicariously liable for the abuse, which occurred between 1968 and 1970.

Gannon assaulted the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, on three occasions when he was a student at a Catholic primary school in regional Victoria.

The Supreme Court of Victoria heard that on one occasion in 1968, Gannon drove the victim along a country road to a clearing before sexually abusing and raping him. The victim said he was terrified at the time that Gannon would kill him.

A further case of abuse occurred when the victim was in church preparing to serve as an altar boy. The court heard that on another occasion Gannon beckoned the victim using a cigarette to enter a school pool pump house where he then abused the boy.

The court heard evidence of the victim becoming suicidal in later periods of his life, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, committing criminal offences in his late teens and 20s, and having an itinerant working life.

The victim continued having thoughts and nightmares about Gannon, including being chased through the bush, falling, and then waking up, the court heard.

He reported the abuse to police in 2007, after which Gannon pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2009.

As part of the ruling on Thursday, Justice Andrew Keogh concluded that Gannon had also been reported to a priest for abusing another minor in about 1960.

In defence, the church argued that the archbishop and the archdiocese were not the same and the archdiocese was an “undefined thing to which liability could not attach”.

Justice Andrew Keogh rejected the church’s submissions in judgment and found the abuse had caused the victim injuries that severely disrupted his education and working life.

He ordered the church to pay the victim $1.9 million for economic loss, general damages and future treatment expenses.

The victim’s lawyer, Michael Magazanik, said after the judgment was handed down, his client was “ecstatic”.

“It has had a catastrophic effect on his life, he has battled with alcohol, mental health issues and trouble with the law,” he said.

Gannon died in April 2015 at an aged-care facility.

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