Catholic church fought sex abuse victim’s claims to deter others, inquiry finds
Catholic church fought sex abuse victim’s claims to deter others, inquiry finds
Royal commission finds church repeatedly failed in its treatment of victims at the hands of its clergy
By Helen Davidson Wednesday 11 February 2015
Cardinal George Pell and the Sydney archdiocese fought a legal claim by an abuse victim, John Ellis, to discourage others from attempting the same, the royal commission has found. It also confirmed the Catholic church repeatedly failed in its dealings with victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.
In reports released on Wednesday the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse examined the Catholic church’s widely condemned Towards Healing program in dealing with four people, and the handling of complaints by Ellis. All matters had been examined in public hearings over the past two years,
The church spent more than $1m fighting Ellis despite him asking for just a tenth of that amount in settlement, and put him through “distressing and unnecessary cross-examination” and threatened him with legal costs.
“The archdiocese [of Sydney] wrongly concluded that it had never accepted that Father Duggan had abused Mr Ellis,” the report found.
“This conclusion allowed Cardinal Pell to instruct the archdiocese’s lawyers to maintain the non-admission of Mr Ellis’s abuse. The archdiocese accepted the advice of its lawyers to vigorously defend Mr Ellis’s claim.”
The report confirms statements made by Pell who admitted this motivation in a royal commission public hearing in March last year.
“One reason Cardinal Pell decided to accept this advice was to encourage other prospective plaintiffs not to litigate claims of child sexual abuse against the church.”
The other reason found was that Pell believed Ellis was seeking “exorbitant damages” of millions of dollars.
Pell “explicitly endorsed the major strategies of the defence”, the report said:
- “to defend the proposition that the trustees were not liable;
- that, if an offence had been admitted by the archdiocese, the archdiocese could not later deny that it took place;
- to appoint competent lawyers and substantially leave them to run the case or advise the archdiocese on how the case should be run.”
It found the then director of professional standards, John Devoran, “failed” Ellis and “did not make a compassionate response his first priority, as required by the protocols in Towards Healing”. The archdiocese of Sydney also “fundamentally failed” Ellis.
“Some seven months after the fact of Mr Ellis’s abuse had first been put in dispute, the archdiocese, on behalf of the trustees and the archbishop, sought to put itself in a position where it could maintain a non-admission of Mr Ellis’s abuse because this was in the interests of the church in the litigation,” the commission found.
Among its 34 findings into the Ellis case, the royal commission said it agreed with Pell’s statement during hearings that “the archdiocese, the trustees and he as archbishop did not act fairly from a Christian point of view in the conduct of the litigation against Mr Ellis”.
The royal commission’s report into Towards Healing found a raft of “systemic issues” in the Catholic church.
It said it was “surprised” by the Catholic church’s submission which posited the Towards Healing protocol was a position statement and suggestion of “possible steps” in a “flexible” process
“That approach to the interpretation and implementation of Towards Healing serves … to excuse and justify departures from, or actions inconsistent with, the Towards Healing protocol,” the report found.
In its dealings with abuse victim Joan Isaacs – who was abused by Brisbane priest Frank Derriman and engaged with Towards Healing from 1999 – the Catholic church was unfair, mean and broke its own protocols in several instances, the royal commission found.
“In 1998, the church knew that Father Derriman had been convicted of two counts of indecent assault and the church did nothing until September 2011,” the report said.
Derriman was not dismissed from his church role until November 2013, more than four decades after the abuse and 15 years after his conviction.
“It was not compassionate, fair or just” to require Isaacs to sign a deed of release which effectively silenced her from speaking about the settlement she received or make “disparaging remarks” about the church.
“Confidentiality clauses should never have been included in deeds of release relating to child sexual abuse,” the report said.
“I am deeply grateful to the commission for upholding these two findings,” Isaacs said in a statement released to Guardian Australia. “The silencing seriously affected my ability to heal and had a damaging effect on my emotional wellbeing. It brought about nearly 13 years of additional suffering for me as it held the same power over me as my abuser did when I was a child. I am grateful for having been released from the silence clauses. I have no doubt that these silence clauses would still be in effect to this day had it not been for the work of this royal commission.”
Isaacs thanked the commission for “exposing the true dealings” she had with Towards Healing.
“The royal commission has shown that the Catholic church of the archdiocese of Brisbane departed substantially from the undertakings they gave in their Towards Healing document,” she said.
“It is now public knowledge that the Catholic church invited me into a situation which brought me more pain and suffering.”
In dealing with two cases of abuse by Marist Brothers, taken to Towards Healing in 2009 and 2010, the royal commission found numerous failures, including that the provincial, Alex Turton, did not report complaints made against Brother Raymond Foster. Provincial Michael Hill tried to keep matters which surfaced after Foster’s suicide “out of the public eye”.
Hill also did not pass on information to the victim which should have been, including some that the victim had specifically requested.
In another case the report found that if the Marist Brothers taken the correct steps when told a boy had been sexually abused by Brother Ross Murrin at a Cairns college in the early 1980s, subsequent abuse of children by Murrin could have been prevented. Murrin remains a Marist brother despite his eventual conviction and incarceration.
In acting as a as a facilitator in Towards Healing facilitations, the then NSW director of professional standards, Michael Salmon, “raise[d] a real potential for an actual or perceived conflict of interest given that the director is employed by the Catholic Church”, the report found.
Last week a discussion paper on redress called for a $4.38bn national compensation scheme.
• This article was corrected on 11 February 2015 to remove the reference to Michael Salmon now being communications manager for the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. This was an error, the council’s Michael Salmon is a different man with the same name.
Posted on February 18, 2015, in Archdiocese of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, Child Sex Abuse, Clergy Abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse, Priest Child Sex Abuse, Religion, Roman Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse and tagged Archdiocese of Sydney, Australian Catholic church to the royal commission into child abuse, Cardinal George Pell, child abuse, child molestation, child rape, child rapists, child sex abuse, crimes against children, John Devoran, pedophile priests, priest abuse, priest pedophilles, priest rape, priest sex abuse, religion, roman catholic church, Roman Catholic Church Child Rape Scandal, Roman Catholic Church Child Sex Abuse, Roman Catholic Church Child Sex Abuse Scandal, Roman Catholic Church Pedophile Cover up Scandal, Roman Catholic Church Pedophile Coverup Scandal, Roman Catholic Church Pedophile Scandal, Roman Catholic Church Pedophiles, Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Coverups, Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, roman catholic church sex scandal, roman catholic clergy, roman catholics, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, The Vatican, Towards Healing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.