Monday, December 09, 2013

Hush fund: Catholic Church paid $43 million to keep abuse secret

Members of CLAN (Care Leavers of Australia Network) protest outside Governor Macquarie Tower / Picture: Toby ZernaTHE Catholic Church has admitted paying at least $43 million in hush money to victims of its paedophile priests, as the church's barrister outraged victims yesterday by quoting from the Bible. 

In some cases, victims were not even allowed to tell their husbands, wives or children about the secret settlements negotiated through the church's controversial Towards Healing process.

The royal commission into child sex abuse was yesterday also told how a Brisbane Catholic priest, Father Frank Derriman, ran a cult-like group sexually abusing young girls and giving them all the surname Brown, borrowed from the Peanuts comic strip's Charlie Brown.

As the church apologised for its behaviour through the commission, survivors who were abused as children in orphanages and homes, walked out of the Sydney hearing in tears when the church's counsel, Peter Gray SC quoted from the Gospel of Mark.

"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the kingdom of God belongs," Mr Gray said.

He said the church, which should have been a sacred place of children, as described in the Bible, admitted it had failed them.

With cries of "Good Lord, "What an insult" and "What a joke", about a dozen people walked out of the commission.

"It is particularly insensitive," said Leonie Sheedy, who along with her six siblings grew up in 26 orphanages.

"We suffered abuse and neglect as children and we really didn't need to hear that Bible quote."

The Catholic Church has come under the spotlight of the royal commission into instutionalised responses to child sex abuse as it looks at how the Towards Healing process worked and the role played by the church's own Catholic Church Insurance.

It is the first time the church has been forced to reveal the extent of compensation paid to victims, although it does not include out-of-court settlements or other payments made outside the Towards Healing process.

Counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, said that between January 1996 and September 2013, $43 million had been paid by all church authorities with the Christian Brothers the most notorious.

The second largest number of complaints were made against the Marist Brothers and then the De La Salle Brothers.

In that time, 2215 victims had approached the Towards Healing process and 1700 people went ahead with it, although not all were pursued or substantiated.

The most complaints, 43 per cent, were made against religious brothers, 21 per cent against diocesan priests and 14 per cent against religious priests. Most of the abuse happened between 1950 to 1980 in orphanages and schools.

Ms Furness said that the highest compensation was $850,000 paid to the victim of a Sydney diocese priest.

Towards Healing, set up in 1996 to act as a way for people to tell their stories, receive pastoral care, an apology and reparation but in some cases, they had to sign a deed agreeing to keep the details secret and even promise not to make "disparaging remarks" about the church, the commission heard.

The Archbishop of Brisbane, the Rev Mark Coleridge, this month wrote to one victim, Joan Isaacs, about his disappointment that "confidentiality clauses were considered necessary at the time."

Archbishop Coleridge is among the church hierarchy including the Bishop of Lismore, Rev Geoffrey Jarrett, former provincials of the Marist Brothers and the former Marist Brothers director for professional standards, Brother Alexis Turton, who will be giving evidence.

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