Friday, March 03, 2017

Child abuse royal commission: Catholic Church blocks victims' path to further compensation

The Catholic Church's Melbourne Archdiocese has rejected an independent review's recommendation to extend compensation for child sex abuse victims to their families or carers. 

It also rejected the review's recommendation to allow victims it has paid compensation to, to seek further legal action.

In August 2014, the church announced retired Federal Court judge Donnell Ryan QC would carry out an independent review of the Melbourne Response — the church's program set up in 1996 by then-archbishop of Melbourne George Pell to deal with sexual abuse claims made against it.

Mr Ryan's report was released in 2015 but it was suppressed by the church for more than a year.

A redacted version was publicly released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last Friday at the conclusion of hearings featuring senior Catholic figures.

In order to receive compensation from the church under the Melbourne Response, victims had to sign a deed of release waiving their right to other avenues of legal compensation.

The Ryan report recommended the church no longer require victims sign the deed to receive their money.

It also recommended that those who signed it in the past have it waived so they can seek further compensation.

The church yesterday said it rejected the recommendations.

It also knocked back the recommendation to make compensation available to victims' families or carers. 

It cited the need to ensure its redress scheme remained affordable and sustainable.

The Ryan report also recommended the church increase the compensation available to victims to at least $150,000.

The church earlier agreed to meet the base figure.

Church accused of 'buck passing'

Melbourne lawyer Angela Sdrinis , who has represented hundreds of abuse survivors, said the church was not taking responsibility for its actions.

"The Melbourne Archdiocese is really passing the buck in response to the vast majority of recommendations," she said.

"There have been so many reports and recommendations and analysis with what has gone wrong with the Melbourne response, the Catholic Church knows what it needs to do."

The church cited a recommendation from the Royal Commission's report into redress and civil litigation as to why it rejected the Ryan report's suggestion to allow victims to seek other legal avenues. 

Ms Sdrinis criticised the church's reasoning.

"Disingenuously the Catholic Church has referred to recommendation 63 ... that recommendation was regarding a national redress scheme," she said.

"It was directed to what individual organisations might do and let me say in Queensland the Government has passed legislation which states that deeds can now be set aside again.
"The Catholic Church can take that step but they refuse to."
The Melbourne Response scheme had processed 364 claims as of August 2015.

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