Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Major changes recommended to Catholic Church's controversial Melbourne Response

Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, ordered a review into the Melbourne Response.Victorian child sex abuse victims who receive a capped payout from the Catholic Church should no longer be forced to sign away their rights to future legal claims, a redacted report has recommended.

An independent review into the church's controversial Melbourne Response scheme was announced by Archbishop Denis Hart in August 2014, but has been suppressed by the church for more than a year.

A heavily edited version was finally submitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Friday, containing 24 pages of the 176-page document.

It included 17 recommendations from the report's author, retired Federal Court judge Donnell Ryan, QC, including that victims no longer be obliged to sign a deed of release in order to access monetary payments.

Mr Ryan said this waiver could be made on the condition that if victims were to receive future payouts through civil proceedings, the money already received through the Melbourne Response would be deducted from the final amount.

The report also recommends opening up payments of up to $150,000 to family members of victims, including those left caring for their loved ones.
 
Mr Ryan said the time and cost expended in caring for victims should not be the only thing considered. He said "the psychological and other effects on the secondary victim" should be taken into account.

Anthony and Chrissie Foster's two daughters, Emma and Katie, were serially abused by notorious paedophile Father Kevin O'Donnell in Oakleigh in the 1980s and '90s. Emma took her own life at the age of 26 after a long battle with drug addiction attributed to her rape as a school girl, while her sister Katie drank heavily before being left disabled by a drunk driver in 1999.

Anthony Foster said the immediate family, as secondary victims, were initially denied any assistance from the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, though the church would later agree to pay the Fosters $750,000 in a civil case.

Mr Foster said although the family had no further contact with the church and "they have denied us any further psychological help", assistance would be very important to other victims and families.

"The harm continues over time and sometime accelerates over time," he said.

Asked about the ongoing impact of past abuse on family members, Mr Foster said that his wife Chrissie collapsed in his arms at the royal commission on Friday while listening to Archbishop Hart.

"It is with us every moment of the day. It's always there. Sometimes it breaks through and sometimes we break down," he said.

The archdiocese has doubled the maximum compensation payments under the Melbourne Response to $150,000, but has yet to make any other significant changes despite critics saying it has re-traumatised victims and the royal commission agreeing it is overly legalistic.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne did not respond to Fairfax Media's request for comment on how many of the 17 recommendations from the long-awaited Melbourne Response report it would implement.

On Friday, Archbishop Hart said he was prepared to consider whether the Melbourne Response scheme would continue alongside any future state or national redress scheme.

"We are committed to going forward into the common one for the whole country if we can do it and are permitted by Victorian law," he told the royal commission.

"Or if that's not possible, our serious negotiations together with other churches with the Victorian government would mean we are definitely intending to go into that."

Asked whether the archdiocese would keep the Melbourne Response as its local complaints handling process, Archbishop Hart said he would consider it.

"I'd have to take advice on the pros and cons with that but I'd certainly be prepared to look at it."

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