Pell accuser’s father can sue Catholic Church

Cardinal George Pell

The Victorian Court of Appeal in Australia has ruled that the father of a choirboy who alleged sexual abuse by Cardinal George Pell can pursue damages against the Catholic Church.

The father, identified only as RWQ in official legal documents, had instituted legal action against both the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the late Cardinal Pell.

RWQ contended that he underwent severe emotional distress upon discovering allegations of sexual misconduct involving his now-deceased son during the mid-1990s.

Cardinal Pell, who staunchly maintained his innocence until his death in January, had previously faced five convictions related to the abuse of the claimant’s son alongside another young boy. However, these convictions were overturned by the High Court in 2020.

Seeking to absolve itself from legal obligations, the Catholic Church invoked an ultimately rejected defence, asserting that the father lacked the right to litigate due to not being the direct victim of the purported abuse.

When, in August 2022, a Supreme Court justice ruled that claims from secondary victims were admissible, the Archdiocese swiftly launched an appeal. This appeal necessitated the Archdiocese’s application for permission from the Court of Appeal, which was ultimately declined last Friday.

Three justices on the panel concurred that the Church’s grounds for appeal lacked sufficient prospects of success to warrant further consideration.

This aligns with arguments advanced by Andrew Clements KC, RWQ’s legal representative.

Clements said legislation overturning the now-defunct Ellis defence repeatedly used the phrase “arising from child abuse” when referring to who could claim damages. He asserted that extended beyond direct victims of abuse.

Church criticised for exploiting loophole

RWQ contended that the Catholic Church should bear assumed liability for his son’s alleged abuse that transpired at St Patrick’s Cathedral when the boy was just 13. He asserted that he endured financial loss due to medical expenses and diminished earning capacity resulting from the psychological toll of his ordeal.

Expressing her perspective, solicitor Gabrielle Verhagen criticised the Church for attempting to exploit a legal loophole. In light of the findings from a royal commission investigating child sexual abuse, Verhagen asserted that the Church ought to prioritise compensating victims and survivors rather than evading responsibility.

“When a child is sexually abused, their whole family suffers the consequences as they grapple with things like new family dynamics, changed behaviours, substance abuse and a life derailed as a result of this life-altering crime” Ms Verhagen said.


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