Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lawyers told Catholic Church not to apologise to victims

LAWYERS warned senior member of the Catholic Church not to apologise to victims of sexual abuse so they could avoid liability, the royal commission has heard. 

James Spence - an experienced lawyer and priest - told the commission he was working as the conduit between the Archbishop of Brisbane, and the legal team acting for compensation claimant Joan Isaacs when he first learned of paedophile priest Francis "Frank" Derriman in the late 90s. 

Earlier, the commission had heard from an emotional Ms Isaacs, who spoke of the trauma she had suffered at the hands of Derriman when she was 14 and 15. 

She said that in the late 60s, Derriman had lured her and other girls into a "cult-like" situation where he pretended he was suffering from a lung disease and told her he needed to have sex with her before he died. 

Derriman, who went on to father the child of another teenage abuse victim, told Ms Isaacs that when she was 16 he could legally have sex with her. 

Ms Isaacs told the commission she was so terrified of turning 16 she contemplated suicide.

She kept the abuse hidden for decades - partly because a priest in her younger years had convinced her she had committed "awful sins" and dealt with Derriman by simply transferring him to another parish- but her breaking point came when she became a teacher in the 90s and learned that the then deputy head of the Queensland Catholic Education Department was a man she knew to be a child abuser. 

After Derriman was convicted of the offences against Ms Isaacs in 1998, she was eventually awarded about $30,000 in compensation (minus about $12,000 in legal fees) but what she really wanted was an apology. 

While one priest offered a personal apology and told Ms Isaacs her story "churned my guts", she wanted a written version, on behalf of the Church. 

Asked why the Church was concerned about offering an official apology, Dr Spence said he had always found it "difficult to accept" that the Church should admit responsibility for something "we didn't know about and had no means of foreseeing". 

He said that after watching the proceedings, he could see that "an apology on behalf of the Church…is certainly warranted" but that his advice from lawyers at the time was that "to offer an apology would be to admit responsibility for damages". 

Dr Spence was also questioned about the existence of an "Archdiocese Development Fund".

He said he didn't know how much money was in the fund at the time but recalled a senior member of the Church telling him at one but that it was worth about $145 million in assets. 

The hearings continue in Sydney.

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