Aussie plan for abuse victims saved Church A$62m

Capping compensation payments to abuse victims saved Melbourne archdiocese A$62 million, according to calculations by an Australian newspaper.

The Melbourne Response, which was created in 1996 by then-Archbishop George Pell, capped payments to victims at $A50,000 and then $A75,000.

But a Sunday Age analysis of data compiled by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse showed the cap potentially saved the Church up to A$62 million.

Victims paid compensation under the Melbourne Response received an average payout of A$46,000, compared to an average A$270,000 settlement for those who attempted to sue the Church.

The disparity comes despite no victim ever winning a lawsuit against the Church due its policy of fighting all claims regardless of merit and the use of the “Ellis Defence” that prevented the Church from being sued successfully because it does not technically exist as a legal entity, the Sunday Age stated.

It is understood these average A$270,000 payments were made as a result of negotiated settlements after victims had obtained independent legal representation.

The figures show the Church has paid out a total of A$14.8 million in compensation to victims of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese of Melbourne.

Francis Moore, executive director of administration for the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne, said they rejected the A$62 million payout figure.

“The proposition is based on the flawed assumption that victims who have been compensated through the Melbourne Response wanted to go to court and would have succeeded if they had.

“The Melbourne Response provides redress and free counselling without having to prove anything in court,” he said.

Mr Moore said the archdiocese also “absolutely rejects” allegations it fights every legal case regardless of merit and noted it does not rely on the Ellis defence.

But earlier this year the Archdiocese of Melbourne was one of many religious institutions and orders around Australia that refused to officially renounce the Ellis defence.

The Sunday Age also reported repeated warnings by senior religious leaders in Melbourne in the 1980s and 1990s that attempts should be made to prevent written records from being used against the Church in future legal proceedings.

A representative of the archdiocese said the bid to avoid legal discovery was “part of the larger story about the culture of secrecy and something nobody in the Church at the time could be at all proud of”.


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