Victim of paedophile priest Vincent Kiss vindicated by potential record payout from Catholic Church

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]

November 14, 2023

By Conor Burke

Key points:

  • The civil case was brought against the diocese of Wagga Wagga, over abuse by convicted paedophile Vincent Kiss
  • The victim, TJ, was award a $3.3 million payout, while three other plaintiffs settled outside court
  • It is first time a civil jury has recorded a verdict against the Catholic Church

An abuse survivor who will potentially receive one of Australia’s largest-ever compensation payouts from the Catholic Church says it is a “mind-blowing” victory he hopes will give other survivors a “sense of hope”. 

The civil case verdict in Victoria’s Supreme Court last Friday related to child sex abuse committed by convicted paedophile priest Vincent Kiss in the 1960s and 70s.

The case was originally brought against the diocese of Wagga Wagga by four men who suffered abuse at the hands of Kiss, who at the time was its director of youth.

Three of the men settled out of court, with TJ, whose real name cannot be used for legal reasons, continuing to trial, eventually being awarded a $3.3 million payout by the jury.

He said he was “shocked” by the outcome.

“I certainly felt vindicated — and a total present sense of relief,” he said.

TJ’s solicitor, Kim Price, said the verdict could set a precedent for other survivors of abuse.

“This is a clear verdict from the courts that the church will be held accountable for abuse and damage that hundreds or thousands of people have suffered,” he said.

A ‘highly revered’ priest

TJ, now 65 years old, first met Kiss at Wagga Wagga’s Saint Michael’s Cathedral when he was 14 years old.

He was an altar boy and said Kiss was a charismatic presence, “incredible speaker, powerful, very motivating” and a seemingly trustworthy person.

It was at a youth Christian event that Kiss first took notice of TJ and after a few meetings invited him on a trip to Sydney.

“He was a very highly revered priest and the fact that he asked me, my parents were probably thinking, what a wonderful opportunity,” TJ said.

“And that’s where the first offence occurred at a hotel. [We] stayed there for a few days, and that’s where that’s where it all began.”

TJ believes Kiss saw a vulnerability in him and targeted that.

“He became a real father figure for me … he was very wealthy, drove incredibly fast cars, and plied me with alcohol,” he said.

“He was treating me to a life that I never dreamt of.”

Flashbacks to abuse

The abuse would carry on for the next two years and TJ would bury the secret for decades.

It wasn’t until he was an adult, married and with a career in teaching, that his trauma reappeared after reading news reports of a paedophile teacher at a nearby school.

“And that’s when I started having serious flashbacks … it became pretty serious, and my behaviour changed,” he said.

“I was becoming withdrawn, I was becoming aggressive, non-communicative.

“Until I told my wife, and she said, ‘You’ve got to do something about this. You have to, it’s not too late to charge [Kiss], you just do it’.”

TJ pressed charges against Kiss, leading to his eventual conviction and imprisonment.

In 2002, Kiss pleaded guilty to 13 sexual assault charges related to incidents between 1966 and 1971 against four teenage boys, including TJ.

But until 2019, survivors were not able to sue the church for damages.

‘Absolutely torturous’

During the recent civil trial, solicitors representing the diocese of Wagga Wagga tried to downplay TJ’s suffering, telling jurors that as he had a family and a career, “he had a good life”.

TJ said reliving his abuse at trial was “absolutely tortuous”.

“To put a victim of the abuse that I suffered under this guy, just to put all that aside and just say, ‘You okay, you’re fine’ … it was just horrendous,” he said.

“It was the worst experience in my life.”

Mr Price, TJ’s solicitor, said it was a landmark case, as it was the first time a jury had returned a civil verdict against the church.

The payout includes $1.3 million for exemplary damages, which Mr Price said related to the church’s conduct towards TJ.

“That is a type of damages that is designed to punish and deter the defendant,” he said.

On Friday, the judge will hear arguments from the church on whether the jury has a legal basis to award those exemplary damages.

Looking forward

TJ and his family spent most of the 2000s living in the United Kingdom, as he sought to escape his trauma.

Now back in Australia, he hopes the settlement will help his family find peace.

“We’re finally going to be able to settle down and find somewhere where we can live our lives without this monkey on my back,” he said.

TJ said he and Kiss’s other survivors felt like “trailblazers” to have been part of a case that could help other survivors come forward.

“It’s not all about just us — we want vindication, but we also want to be able to support others,” he said.

Catholic Bishop of Wagga Wagga Mark Edwards declined to comment at this stage.