Saturday, October 01, 2016

Catholic Church accused of ignoring independent review of Melbourne Response

Denis Hart is accused of ignoring an independent review into the church's response to abuse victims.Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart has been accused of exacerbating the suffering of clerical abuse victims by ignoring an independent report on the archdiocese's compensation scheme that he received a year ago.

Victims who want their compensation claims reviewed have been forced to wait while the Archdiocese of Melbourne continues to delay the release of the report, fuelling claims of stalling and obfuscation by the church.
The review of the Melbourne Response was commissioned by Archbishop Hart in August 2014, following repeated claims at the royal commission that the church's Melbourne Response victim compensation program was primarily concerned with avoiding litigation and minimising payouts.

Archbishop Hart had vowed the findings by retired Federal Court judge Donnell Ryan would be released by November 2014. The report was widely expected to recommend a significant increase, or removal, of the $75,000 cap on compensation.

Mr Ryan submitted the review to Archbishop Hart on September 30 last year, but the report and its recommendations are yet to be made public. He was unable to explain the delay.

"I have received a number of inquiries from people who contributed to the report. I have told them that the timing of the release of the report is a matter for the Archbishop," Mr Ryan told Fairfax Media.

On Thursday, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne spokesman Shane Healy did not respond to emails or phone calls from Fairfax Media. In March, Mr Healy said an announcement would be made within a month.

Helen Last, chief executive of the In Good Faith Foundation, said the year-long delay demonstrated a shocking lack of compassion by Archbishop Hart towards those abused by priests in the Melbourne archdiocese.

"A lot of these people are ill and without support. I would ask the Archbishop to demonstrate some empathy and stop putting difficult questions aside. He needs to deal with the findings of this report," Ms Last said.

The church has been repeatedly urged to review the 326 cases it has settled since the contentious scheme was introduced in 1996 by the former Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell.

The church paid $14.1 million in ex gratia payments for child sexual abuse claims between 1996 and 2014, which included medical and counselling expenses.

Victims received an average payout of $36,100.

But the cost of administering the controversial compensation scheme was more than $20 million, including $13.2 million on legal expenses.

Serial paedophile priest Kevin O'Donnell was responsible for the largest number of payouts. His 50 victims included Emma and Katie Foster when they attended Oakleigh's Sacred Heart primary school in the 1980s.

Their father, Anthony Foster, said the church was ignoring an "explicit promise" that the Ryan report would be publicly released, and failing to do so was causing further damage to victims.

"We had to go through telling our story again only to see the report suppressed. There is no legitimate reason it can't be released," he said.

In November 2014, the Truth, Justice and Healing Council released guidelines that allowed victims who had previously received compensation payments from the Catholic Church to have them reviewed if they thought the redress had "insufficient [regard] to the severity of the abuse they suffered".

The new guidelines were a response to mounting pressure from victims about the fairness and adequacy of the church's compensation programs, particularly the Melbourne Response which capped payments at $75,000.

But the 2014 pledge did not apply to the Melbourne Response because "the issue of how those cases should be reviewed" was the subject of the Ryan review, the council said.

"We've been waiting, waiting, waiting," said one victim, who asked to have his name withheld. "If you're a Melbourne Response survivor, nothing has changed. The church is still not putting the needs of survivors at the top of the pyramid."

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