Victorian Child Sex Abuse Survivor Wins Second Chance to Sue Catholic Church in "Landmark" Case

By James Hancock
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
September 30, 2020

The Supreme Court set aside a 1996 settlement reached by the abuse survivor with the Catholic Church and found the case should be reconsidered.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

A victim of historical child sexual abuse has won what is believed to be a landmark case in Victoria against the Catholic Church, giving him a second shot at suing for compensation.

The Supreme Court heard the former altar boy was abused between the ages of 11 and 14 by the late priest Daniel Hourigan in Gippsland from 1977 to 1980.

Hourigan died in 1995.

The victim, referred to as WCB, lost his childhood and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder for more than 40 years, the court was told.

He sued the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sale for "personal injury suffered" in 1996 and settled for $32,500.

But yesterday, a judge set aside the settlement because of recent legal changes and found the case should be reconsidered.

"The settlement embodied in the deed was not a reasonable assessment of the plaintiff's loss and damage in 1996, or adequate compensation by today's standards," the judge found.

The victim's lawyer, Michael Magazanik, said his client was bullied by the church into accepting a pathetic settlement.

"That happened to hundreds and hundreds of Victorians, not just Catholic Church survivors, but all sorts of institutions," he said.

"This landmark decision throws the door open to them to get those deeds ripped up and go and get proper justice, proper compensation."

Three recent legislative changes allowed the case to go ahead:

An amendment to the Limitation Act scrapping the time limit for personal injury cases related to child abuse

Other changes to the act giving the court the power to set aside an earlier judgement or settlement

And the enactment of legislation making it possible to identify the Roman Catholic Trusts Corporation as the "proper defendant" in the case

Survivor says court's ruling offers a 'fresh chance' for him and others

In a statement, WCB said the ruling was a second chance for him and other survivors to make their case for more compensation.

"This is a fresh chance not just for me, but for many abuse survivors including all the other Gippsland boys who were abused by Father Daniel Hourigan," he wrote.

"I hope the ones who feel up to it step forward and hold the [Catholic] Church to account."

He said he had no choice but to accept the "terrible settlement" in the mid-90s.

"The Church had all the power I had none," WCB said.

"It really wasn't a legal claim, it was more like asking for charity. I had to take what was offered."

Mr Magazanik said last month another client was awarded $1.6 million for abuse suffered at a Victorian primary school and a victim of the Christian Brothers in Western Australia won $1 million.

The case is expected to go to trial in November.

Father Peter Slater from the Diocese of Sale said the church was committed to redressing the harm caused.

"On behalf of the Diocese of Sale and all clergy and staff working here, I offer our support, prayers and willingness to work together for the best outcomes for the survivors of abuse," he said in a statement.

"As Justice Keogh's findings are currently being reviewed, it would not be appropriate to comment further on a process that still has legal ramifications."








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