Catholic Church Doubles Sex Abuse Compensation but Suppresses Independent Report

By Chris Vedelago Cameron Houston
The Age
November 18, 2016

The Catholic Church has pledged to double potential compensation payments for child sex abuse survivors to $150,000 but has back-tracked on a promise to publicly release an independent review into its controversial Melbourne response victim compensation scheme.

Archbishop Denis Hart has defended the decision to withhold the report, saying it was being done in the interest of victims.

Archbishop Denis Hart. Photo: Joe Armao

"We're doing it because we want to cause the least disturbance to the people who have suffered," he said.

The report would instead be handed over to the royal commission, Archbishop Hart said.

The decision is expected to upset survivors, their families and victims advocates who have been waiting for more than a year for Archbishop Hart to authorise the release of the report, some of whom contributed to its creation.

In 2014, retired Federal Court judge Donnell Ryan was commissioned to examine the operation of the Melbourne Response program following complaints about its fairness. The report was handed more than a year ago to Archbishop Hart.

Anthony Foster, father of two victims of serial paedophile priest Kevin O'Donnell, said he was "stunned" by the decision to withhold the text of the report.

"This is not good enough. There's been an explicit promise all along this report would be released and it should be released," he said. "We need to see the full report in order to know the Archdiocese is following through with the full recommendation of the Ryan review."

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Archbishop Hart said that it would likely be left to the royal commission to decide on whether the report would be publicly released.

"If they then say to us, 'put it out there', we'll certainly put it out there. Or we'll seek to reevaluate what is there in the context of what the community is saying to us, what the commission is saying to us, for the benefit of all."

However, the royal commission has previously stated that the Ryan review and any changes made to the operation of the Melbourne Response were a matter for the church.

In a media statement today, the Archdiocese of Melbourne also announced the compensation cap on Melbourne Response payments would be doubled to $150,000 on the recommendation of Mr Ryan.

"The Melbourne Archdiocese is committed to a fair system of redress. We have decided it is right to both increase the compensation cap for survivors of abuse and re-visit cases for survivors of child sexual abuse if these survivors would have received a higher offer had the new arrangements been in force at the time their case was heard," Archbishop Hart said.

Dr Vivian Waller, a solicitor who has represented numerous sexual abuse victims who have made claims against the church, welcomed the doubling of the potential compensation payment. "It's likely more people will use the Melbourne Response scheme now."

Archbishop Hart said the church was expecting to spend about $15 million on new and reassessed compensation claims on top of the $15 million that had already been paid out to victims.








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