Abuse Victim Won $450,000 Payout
By Barney Zwartz
April 30, 2013
|Chrissie and Anthony Foster. Photo: Justin McManus
Child rape victim Emma Foster received $450,000 compensation from the Catholic Church when the church limit was $50,000 because she took the church to court, the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled child sex abuse heard on Tuesday.
Peter O'Callaghan QC, the independent commissioner for the church's abuse system, admitted he wrote to the church's lawyer Richard Leder about "flushing out the Fosters' real intentions" because he suspected they would use his Melbourne Response finding in court.
He also admitted going to the Fosters’ home and trying to persuade Emma to accept the church offer, saying it was because she was about to turn 18 and the legal arrangements would change.
Emma and Katie Foster were serially abused at primary school by paedophile priest Kevin O'Donnell. Emma later committed suicide, while Katie is in a wheelchair after being hit by a car.
Anthony and Chrissie Foster told the inquiry in November that Cardinal George Pell showed a "sociopathic lack of empathy" when he met them, and challenged them "if you don't like what we are doing, take us to court".
They did so, winning nine times the Catholic maximum for Emma, another much larger payout for Katie and costs, but Tuesday's hearing was the first time the sum has been named. There were gasps in the public gallery when it was read out.
Mr O'Callaghan was eager to rebut earlier evidence attacking his independence and behaviour by Victoria Police, which he said was often "plainly wrong and seriously misconceived". He had worked with police in setting up procedures and shared files with victims' permission.
He said widely reported dissatisfaction with his role was largely due to the influence of victims' advocate Helen Last, and was greatly exaggerated. "I am sure some victims were dissatisfied, but they are very much a minority," he said.
Denying that he had a conflict of interest, he said the Melbourne Response had been a world innovator by providing a remedy for victims who did not want to take legal action.
The Melbourne Response's other independent commissioner, Jeff Gleeson SC, paid a warm personal tribute, calling Mr O'Callaghan "one of the most decent men I've ever met, wise, compassionate and just".
"It is suggested that he doesn't care, that he's on the side of the church, and it's not true. Those who are quietly satisfied have not given evidence to the inquiry - that's the nature of things."
Mr O'Callaghan said he helped victims report cases to the police, often ringing the appropriate officer on their behalf, but there was no point in reporting allegations to police if the victim did not want the police to pursue them. He said police had not provided any details of cases they felt he handled inappropriately.
He said that being hired and paid by the Catholic Church did not affect his independence, and to claim otherwise was "a grave allegation".
"I was akin to a royal commissioner," Mr O’Callaghan said.
He said he had assessed 330 complaints since being appointed in 1996, upholding 304, or 97 per cent.
Mr Gleeson said he advised victims they could get legal representation but that they did not need it as he would advise them.
Catholic Church Insurance CEO Peter Rush said the company had paid 600 Victorian victims about $30 million since it started providing clergy sex abuse liability insurance in 1991, but it did not pay the Fosters.
Mr Rush said it was quite likely that CCI had told bishops to "admit nothing", as claimed by former Ballarat Bishop Peter Connors on Monday.
"In the early 1990s that would have been the way we advised our clients, quite wrongly. It was the way insurers ran liability. That ceased with the introduction of Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response [in 1996]".
He confirmed that CCI declined to indemnify the church for any claims against serial paedophile Gerald Ridsdale for abuse after 1975, when Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew of his "propensity to offend".
CCI, which is owned by Catholic dioceses and religious orders, had refused to cover about 30 of the 600 payments, mostly because the bishop in the case had known about the offender.