Judge rules clergy abuse victims’ families can sue

Abuse victims families

A Victoria court judge has ruled abuse victims’ families can pursue civil action in court.

The ruling enables the father of a deceased former choirboy to sue Cardinal George Pell and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The ruling is another chapter in a saga of allegations and prosecutions against Pell, who is a former Archbishop of Melbourne.

In 2018 he was found guilty in the County Court of abusing two choirboys in 1976. Those convictions were quashed by the High Court in 2020 and Pell was released from prison after spending more than a year in custody.

The deceased choirboy’s father (known as RWQ) then sought permission to take Pell and the Archdiocese to the civil court.

RWQ is now seeking compensation for the nervous shock and psychiatric injury he’s suffered since 2015 when police told him they believed Pell had abused his son and another choirboy.

His son, however, had never made allegations against Pell. He died in 2014 from a heroin overdose.

Nonetheless, his father says the Archdiocese is vicariously liable for the alleged abuse and that he has lost money to medical expenses and earning capacity due to suffering from several psychological conditions.

Lawyers for the Archdiocese had argued RWQ was not entitled to pursue civil action against it.

They said the Legal Identity of Defendants Act passed in 2018 stated that financial compensation for damage inflicted would be made only on abuse survivors as “primary victims” and not their families as “secondary victims”.

Countering this argument, lawyers representing RWQ said the Act’s wording allows for claims to be brought against the clergy “founded on or arising from child abuse”.

On Wednesday Justice Michael McDonald ruled the law could extend to secondary child abuse victims.

“The plain meaning of the words ‘founded on or arising from child abuse’ … includes a claim for nervous shock brought by a parent of a child alleged to have been sexually abused,” he told the court.

He said repeated usage of “founded on or arising from child abuse” in the Act pointed strongly to a conclusion that the law was not confined to claims brought by primary abuse victims.

“To conclude otherwise renders the words ‘arising from child abuse’ otiose,” McDonald said in his written decision.


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