Cardinal Pell admits abuse response was set up to avoid damages

Cardinal George Pell has admitted that he wanted to avoid big damages verdicts when he set up a response to deal with child sex abuse complaints in the Church.

Cardinal Pell said this in giving evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in Sydney.

The Melbourne Response, which Cardinal Pell instigated in the 1990s, had a $50,000 cap on payouts.

It gave the Church control over how much compensation a victim could receive when its liability could not be established.

Cardinal Pell said he had set up the Melbourne Response in 1996 after the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, told him “Now you clean this thing up and there won’t be a Royal Commission”.

The cardinal’s moral choices in dealing with sex abuse cases have come under sustained challenge at the Royal Commission.

He said his instructions when Archbishop of Sydney to “vigorously” and “strenuously” defend claims by abuse victim John Ellis were intended to discourage claimants.

This was so they would “think clearly” before litigating against the Church.

The cardinal had defended disputing in court whether Mr Ellis was really abused.

Cardinal Pell said his lawyers assured him it was a “proper” legal tactic and Mr Ellis was a senior lawyer who would have understood he was not disbelieved.

The cardinal admitted he accepted Mr Ellis’ allegations, just as the Church’s own review had done.

But even so he gave the instructions which resulted in Mr Ellis being subject to four days of gruelling cross-examination in court on whether and how he had been abused.

He said he had “moral doubts” about it, but he didn’t think his lawyers would have suggested anything “improper” to him.

He said that from a Christian perspective, Mr Ellis had not been treated fairly.

Mr Ellis was abused by the priest Aidan Duggan in the Bass Hill parish from when he was a 13-year-old altar boy.

Mr Ellis lost his landmark damages case against the Sydney archdiocese, which established a defence which has shielded the Church from damages claims in similar litigation.

The litigation finished up costing the Church A$1.5 million, including A$568,000 in ex gratia payments to Mr Ellis.

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