THE Catholic Church's insurance company instructed a bishop to delete an admission that church officials had been warned about a pedophile priest from a letter of apology sent to one of the man's victims.
The company, Catholic Church Insurances, dominated the negotiation
of abuse claims, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to
Child Sexual Abuse heard yesterday, instructing clerics to deny
liability and dictating the amount of compensation and even counselling
offered in response.
On one occasion, the commission heard, the
company was consulted on a 1999 letter sent to the victim of a Brisbane
priest who claimed to be terminally ill and saying she "needed to have
sex with him before he died".
His victim, Joan Isaacs, had
attempted to warn church officials about her abuse but was ignored, the
commission heard, allowing the priest to abuse other children.
In CCI documents tendered in evidence, company manager Laurie Rolls
wrote "I instructed Bishop (John) Gerry to remove from that letter" the
words "I am sorry that you were not believed when you told other priests
what had happened to you."
That particular sentence did not
subsequently appear in the formal apology Ms Isaacs received from Bishop
Gerry, the commission heard.
Other documents state "CCI will not
move from the offer of $30,000" in compensation to Ms Isaacs and one
senior cleric who met her was told to "express sorrow (but) avoid any
suggestion the archdiocese is itself responsible".
In a written
statement, Mr Rolls -- who was excused giving evidence in person due to
ill health -- said CCI had a direct influence on the church's Towards
Healing process, established in 1996 to respond to child sex abuse by
The company "usually required an insured (church body) to
make no admission of liability, it was wary of allowing apologies to be
made and it required or encouraged technical (legal) defences when they
were available," he said.
While this approach has changed over
the years, another senior cleric who dealt with Ms Isaacs said he now
regretted that the church had relied so heavily on the advice of CCI.
"Beyond what could be done by lawyers and insurers, the church might
have a responsibility there to help a person repair their life," Father
James Spence said.
The archdiocese had itself declined to add any
money to the $30,000 in compensation offered by the insurer, despite
having access to about $154 million in a "development fund", he said.
documents tendered to the commission show Father Spence also sought
legal advice on whether the confidentiality of the Towards Healing
process could be used to deny access to church files if these files were
sought by lawyers representing the priest's other victims.
too late or unethical to involve Towards Healing now and put our file
under its umbrella? There may be sensitive material gathered in the
future," one letter to the church's lawyers said.
Asked if he
considered "that would have been a deceitful exercise", Father Spence
replied "I'd really have to think about that pretty deeply because I
don't know all the other practical points involved.
"I don't think I can make a judgment about being dishonest."