Catholic Church Makes Record Payout in Child Sex Abuse Case

By Heather McNeill
Brisbane Times
January 21, 2021

The Catholic Church has made what is believed to be its highest ever payout to a victim of sexual abuse after church lawyers forced a 52-year-old man to give harrowing evidence in court about his rape by a priest in the 1970s.

Peter* will receive $2.45 million plus legal costs to compensate him for abuse by teacher and priest Bertram Adderley, who groomed and raped him between 1977 and 1980 when he was aged 10 to 12.

Lawyers involved in seeking restitution for victims of sexual abuse say they believe the settlement is up to $1 million higher than any payout previously awarded to someone suing the Catholic Church.

The church is facing hundreds of claims after a number of jurisdictions removed rules that prevented people going to court to seek compensation for historical sexual abuse, even if they had previously accepted payouts from church-run schemes such as the Melbourne Response.

A series of significant payouts for sexual abuse have dwarfed those being offered by the federal government’s National Redress Scheme, set up after the child sex abuse royal commission. In the last financial year, the scheme made 2504 redress payments, ranging from less than $10,000 to $150,000, with an average payment of $81,876, government records show.

Peter's settlement was offered on January 13, just hours after he entered the witness box at his District Court civil trial in Perth and told how Adderley, who died in 1983, abused him over several years. The abuse included taking Peter to a nudist beach, raping him in an apartment and forcing him to perform oral sex inside a Perth church where he was an altar boy.

Peter told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that being forced by the church to relive the abuse through giving evidence at the trial had re-traumatised him, but that he had been determined to call Adderley out and to encourage others to come forward.

"At the time the abuse was occurring, he would tell me, 'Keep it our little secret, it's all good. Do you really want your mother to be upset by this?' " Peter said. "It was hardcore to tell your deepest, darkest, most securely kept secrets to a room full of strangers in court.

"It's traumatising but I was determined to do it because what the church allowed their members to do was evil and evil only prospers in the dark, and what I was determined to do was bring it to the light."

Peter's lawyer, Melbourne-based Michael Magazanik from Rightside Legal, said the landmark payout was proof victims of abuse could get proper compensation if they had the determination to fight.

"The church has a shocking history," he said. "The abuse is part one, and then the legal bullying of survivors is part two when pitiful, insulting sums are forced on people."

Mr Magazanik said the laws had changed to allow people to seek compensation, "but the church has not yet accepted that the ground has shifted under its feet.

"You can't expect the church to act sensibly or charitably, you have to force them to do it and that's why my client had the courage and amazing determination to actually get into the witness box and tell his story. That really forced the church to surrender."

Prior to the $2.45m settlement, Peter had been offered and accepted $50,000 from the church.

Adderley's abuse of children first came to light in the 1960s when he was working as a priest in the West Australian town of Narrogin. Following the accusations, he was relegated to parishes in Nannup and Manjimup.

In 1974, he was accused of molesting a boy inside a Bunbury church and admitted to the abuse. Former bishop Myles McKeon told the ABC in 2008 that Adderley, while never charged, had subsequently been "expelled from the priestly ministry". However, records show he moved to Perth and continued his employment as a locum priest.

"The Catholic Church knew this bloke was an offender, and as was its custom, they just moved him 175 kilometres up the road and gave him a licence to go and access all sorts of other boys," Mr Magazanik said.

"[Peter] came from a happy family and he was just picked off by this disgraceful man and it changed his life trajectory."

Peter suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and he also suffers from ongoing depression and anxiety. He struggled to hold a job for more than 12 months prior to turning 50, and had turned to drugs. The impact of the abuse was always with him, he said.

"[The payout] is a sense of vindication, relief and justice because the church can't hide him any longer," he said.

"I still see [Adderley] every morning when I wake up. I still have that shadow and I think I always will, but now that shadow is in the light. I've brought it out of the dark and I think you're going to see my offender's name a whole lot more often in court files.

"I hope other victims come forward."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Perth declined to comment.

Lawyer Judy Courtin, who represents victims of institutional abuse, welcomed the higher payments being awarded by courts but said we were “still not there” in terms of paying fair compensation for suffering.

Dr Courtin said the redress scheme was “disgusting” and “designed in cahoots with the institutions including the Catholic Church and the state to further protect the property of the church and institutions”.

*Not his real name.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), or Lifeline, the 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention service, on 13 11 14.








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