Rubbing Salt into the Wound for Abuse Victims

By Judy Courtin
Brisbane Times
November 26, 2016

When I think things cannot get worse for my institutional child sexual abuse clients wham! another round of trickery is thrust at already vulnerable victims by the highly legalistic and parsimonious hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Whilst feigning compassion, this hierarchy is nervously propelling unknown millions of dollars at lawyers to help them defend the indefensible and to conceal the truth.

The Archdiocese of Melbourne, hiding in the shadows until the federal government led the way with a national redress scheme, announced recently it would offer ex gratia payments to victims, including those who had previously engaged in their internal complaints process, the Melbourne Response. The cap would be doubled to $150,000.

Cardinal George Pell ... retired judge Donnell Ryan has reviewed his Melbourne Response, but that review has not been released. Photo: AP

Friday's announcement, frocked up to lure and exploit the misinformed and vulnerable, actually gazumped the repeatedly-promised and overdue release of a critically important independent review of George Pell's Melbourne Response by retired judge Donnell Ryan.

Although provided to the royal commission, this review will never be publicly viewed, including by those valiant people without whom this review would not exist. Archbishop Hart uses victims, who want this review, as a decoy as he falsely claims that publishing the Ryan Review will only re-traumatise them. The immoral art of ecclesiastical concealment endures.

Returning to matters of compensation, a new cap of $150,000 sounds generous. But what is the reality.

In the 1970s Peter* was grotesquely sexually assaulted every two to three weeks (sometimes daily over several days) for about five years from age 11, by now-deceased Kevin O' Donnell, a notorious paedophile parading as an upstanding Catholic priest. Peter's precious young life had been permanently contaminated by a repulsive and pernicious criminal who had been having sex with children since 1944. O'Donnell was convicted in 1995 of crimes against Peter and 11 other victims.

In 2000 Peter's five-year legal battle for compensation failed spectacularly because the archdiocese uncompromisingly instructed its lawyers to bleed dry every legal defence it could put its dirty hands on, including what is now known as the Ellis defence.

Expecting $50,000, Peter was offered $30,000, which he could "like or lump", as the archdiocese would "strenuously defend" the matter. Peter, further psychiatrically harmed and financially broken, had reached the end of his road to justice he had been callously and strategically crushed by these men of God.

So what does Friday's announcement by the monarch of Melbourne's ecclesiastical province mean for Peter?

While Peter can apply for 60 per cent of the newly-revised cap of $150,000 (an additional $90,000), the mischievous small print demands he virtually pay back the $30,000 he received in 2000, but only after it is 'adjusted for inflation'. This would increase his payback to about $46,000. Paradoxically, victims' payouts were never adjusted for inflation.

So, instead of a potential additional $90,000, Peter would receive an additional $44,000 (or about 30 percent of the new cap). Such would be the generosity of the church for Peter's life-long sentence of profound psychiatric harm, attempted suicides and financial struggle and deprivation.

Further, simply doubling payouts that were arbitrary, inconsistent and manifestly unjust in the first place, only compounds the exploitation.

The inhumanity and utter ruthlessness of these hypocritical men of God makes me sick.

Victims may have choices other than being contained and controlled by the Melbourne Response.

First, the proposed 2018 national redress scheme, also with a cap of $150,000, is one option, although much remains unknown, including which governments and organisations will take part.

Second, every victim of child sexual assault continues to have the legal right to make a civil law claim, even though such a pathway has been highly problematic.

In 2015 the Victorian government abolished the time limits for claims relating to child sexual offences (as have NSW and Queensland, with Tasmania now joining the bloc), removing a pivotal barrier to justice. Further, we continue to put pressure on state governments to implement the royal commission's sagacious recommendation to be retrospectively rid of the Ellis defence, thus providing victims with a certain legal entity to sue.

Whereas plaintiffs in our common law counterparts in the UK and Canada have succeeded in making religious institutions liable (albeit indirectly), such cases in Australia are in their infancy. Nevertheless, we now have such adjudications.

Finding justice in the civil courts is challenging. Every case turns on its own facts, with many never making it to the courts. But the deleterious and mountainous legal landscape in this profoundly unjust world of institutional child sex crimes is beginning to be redefined. Cases that a few years ago faced impossible legal hurdles are now being issued in the courts.

The maximum for pain and suffering (non-economic loss) provided for in Victoria's legislation is more than $500,000. The maximum awarded by Victorian courts in these types of cases, to my knowledge, is about $300,000. These amounts do not include the potential for economic loss.

Relying on the Catholic hierarchy to display good faith and part with its self-indulgent wealth could be foolish. There can be no good faith when avarice reigns supreme.








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