Civil Claims Expected against Cardinal George Pell and Catholic Church Despite Acquittal
By Ben Smee
April 8, 2020
|Cardinal George Pell arrives at the county court in Melbourne on 27 February 2019. Pell’s conviction was overturned in Aistralia’s high court on Tuesday, but lawyers say civil claims are likely to proceed. Photograph: Andy Brownbill/AP|
The high court acquittal of George Pell is likely to be followed by a string of civil claims against the cardinal and the Catholic church from alleged abuse survivors and their families, lawyers say.
Pell was freed from Victoria’s Barwon prison on Tuesday after the high court allowed his appeal and quashed a conviction for charges related to the alleged sexual assault of two choirboys in 1996. He strenuously denies all allegations.
The father of one of the boys, who has since died, is suing the Catholic church and has said his case will continue despite the high court’s decision to overturn the jury verdict. His lawyer, Lisa Flynn from Shine Lawyers, said such civil cases were not dependent on the outcome of a criminal case.
“We will continue to pursue a civil claim on behalf of our client despite the high court’s ruling,” she said. “He has suffered immensely and maintains George Pell was responsible for his son’s sudden downward spiral after he abused his son as a young choirboy.
“A civil case isn’t treated the same as a criminal case in that there are different standards of proof and one is not reliant on the other.
“Our civil case is focused on the devastating impact this has had on our client’s life. The standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities – that is whether it is more probable than not the abuse occurred and caused our client to suffer injury.”
Flynn said the choirboy’s father was “gutted” by the high court decision and had lost faith in the criminal justice system.
The other choirboy, known as Witness J, who gave evidence against Pell in his Victorian county court trial, said in a statement on Tuesday he accepted the high court outcome and that it was hard for such cases to meet the criminal standard of proof.
“Witness J has not at any time instructed me to bring a common law claim for compensation,” his lawyer, Vivian Waller, said.
Last year, lawyers acting for a man who claims he was molested by Pell and horrifically physically abused by staff when he was a ward of the state in the 1970s filed a lawsuit that named the state of Victoria, Pell and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne as defendants.
The 50-year-old man was a resident in St Joseph’s boys’ home in Ballarat from February 1974 to 1978 and says he was abused by Pell and a nun during that period.
Claims against Pell have also been filed by those who claim he failed to prevent their abuse at the hands of other priests. These claims are also denied by Pell.
A man abused by the notorious paedophile Christian Brother Edward “Ted” Dowlan is suing Pell, alleging the cardinal did nothing to protect him.
The man was a student at East Melbourne’s Cathedral College when he was abused by Dowlan, who was first jailed in the 1990s for abusing boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
In a case lodged in the Victoria supreme court, the man alleges Pell knew of Dowlan’s abuse and was involved in moving him from school to school, allowing it to continue.
Pell has faced persistent questions about his actions to stop abuse when he held senior church positions throughout Victoria. The child abuse royal commission made findings relating to Pell and what he knew about abuse occurring by clergy at the time, but these have been heavily redacted because of the criminal proceedings.
The release of the redacted findings is expected in the coming weeks.