Category Archives: Father Kevin McDonough
Child sex abuse royal commission: Child abuse claims in Victoria cost Catholic Church $34m, inquiry hears
Child sex abuse royal commission: Child abuse claims in Victoria cost Catholic Church $34m, inquiry hears
Child abuse claims in Victoria since 1996 have cost the Catholic Church more than $34 million, an inquiry has heard.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating the church’s so-called Melbourne Response to allegations of child sexual abuse by its clergy.
The scheme was introduced by Cardinal Pell when he was Melbourne’s archbishop in 1996, and was a first of its kind.
It allowed anyone allegedly abused by priests or others under the authority of the archbishop to have what the church called “an independent commissioner” to investigate their claims and make findings.
Compensation from the scheme was originally capped at $50,000 before being lifted to $75,000, with the cap a subject of contention among victims and their advocates.
Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said data from the Archdiocese of Melbourne showed abuse claims had cost the church more than $34 million.
“The total of ex gratia payments made under the Melbourne Response for child sexual abuse claims and amounts paid for medical counselling and treatment amounted to $17.295 million,” Ms Furness said.
“The cost of administering the Melbourne Response was $17.011 million.”
She told the commission victims had received larger payments by going outside of Melbourne Response scheme.
“The average compensation payment amount paid is $36,100,” she said.
“(A total of) $3,187 for those claims settled within the response, $168,000 for those that began within the Melbourne Response but settled outside, and just short of $300,000 for those outside the Melbourne Response.
“Since the cap increased to $75,000, the total amount of compensation paid to 65 victims of child sexual abuse has been $3.3 million, the average compensation payment being just over $50,000.”
Ms Furness told the inquiry that ex gratia payments made under the Melbourne Response scheme did not constitute an admission of liability.
“In announcing the Melbourne Response, it was stated that the establishment of the compensation panel and the offer of ex-gratia compensation payments were not an admission of liability,” she said.
“The archbishop, the archdiocese and the church, in the document recording the Melbourne Response, did not accept that they had any legal obligation to make payments to complainants.”
The hearings were interrupted after lunch by a power outage in the area.
Couple whose daughter died pulled out of ‘Melbourne Response’
Christine Foster, the mother of victims of Catholic Church abuse, was the first witness to take the stand this morning.
Two of Christine and Anthony Foster’s three daughters were assaulted by a Catholic priest while in primary school. One subsequently committed suicide.
Ms Furness said Mrs Foster would give evidence that “Emma and Katie were abused by their parish priest, Father Kevin O’Donnell, when they were students at Sacred Heart primary school” and that the abuse continued in their early years at primary school and beyond.
“Neither Mrs Foster nor Anthony were aware of the abuse at the time it occurred,” she said.
Mrs Foster then gave harrowing details of the impact of O’Donnell’s sexual abuse of her two daughters.
She said Emma, who suffered from anorexia, and had at least 900 doctor, specialist and pathology visits, at least 75 outpatient psychology appointments, and more than 50 admissions to hospital, detox and rehabilitation clinics, before taking her own life in 2008.
Katie took to binge drinking to escape the memories of her abuse.
Mrs Foster said she was hit by a car after binge drinking in 1999 and now required 24-hour care.
Mrs Foster told the commission that church leaders appeared “stand-offish” and did not appear to want to listen to concerned parents at a meeting.
She said the family initially participated in the Melbourne Response scheme.
“Nothing about this process was transparent,” Ms Foster said.
They received an offer of $50,000 for Emma, which was then the maximum, which Emma accepted, although she did not sign the trust deed.
“We told Emma not to accept the offer as we knew this would end all her rights,” Mrs Foster said.
The Fosters later decided to pursue legal action against the Catholic Church, instead of continuing through the Melbourne Response scheme.
Mrs Foster said she was shocked to discover the defendants did not admit that Emma and Katie had been sexually abused.
They eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, of $750,000 plus costs, believed to be the largest compensation payout of its kind in Australia.
Six months after Emma’s death, the Fosters were accused of “dwelling crankily on old wounds”.
Mrs Foster told the commission she believed they settled for an amount of money that was far less than what their children were entitled to.
She and her husband wanted the cap on payments removed and all past claims reviewed.
One priest the subject of 19pc of compensation claims
The commission heard O’Donnell’s actions accounted for almost a fifth (19 per cent) of all compensation paid by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
The archdiocese paid people who were abused by O’Donnell $1,886,100 through the Melbourne Response scheme, up to March this year, the commission was told.
Other complaints about O’Donnell, who was a parish priest in Oakleigh, have been settled outside the scheme.
The total amount of compensation and counselling costs paid in relation to O’Donnell is $2,934,390.
The two institutions subject to the largest number of complaints are the Sacred Heart Primary School and the Sacred Heart Parish in Oakleigh.
Church asked me to sign away rights: witness
The commission also heard that Melbourne priest, Father Victor Rubeo, targetted two generations of one family.
Paul Hersbach gave evidence about the behaviour of Rubeo, who lived at times with him and his family.
He told the commission that the abuse started when he was about seven years old, when Rubeo would come into his bedroom and sit on the bed, or would watch him and his brother when they were naked in the bath.
He told the commission that Rubeo would shower him and his brother with gifts, including computers, a CD player and a go-kart.
Mr Hersbach testified that Rubeo had his own room at the Hersbach home at one stage and was involved in every aspect of the family’s lives – he opened the mail, paid the bills and bought groceries
“I thought it was normal,” he told the court.
Mr Hersbach testified that his father, Tony Hersbach, was abused decades earlier when he was an altar boy.
After his father made a complaint about his own abuse, Mr Hersbach said, Rubeo asked him to repay the $10,000 he given the family for the house.
In 1996 Rubeo pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting Mr Hersbach’s father and uncle.
Fresh charges were laid in 2010, but Rubeo died on the day he was due in court for his committal in 2011.
Paul Hersbach met with Peter O’Callaghan QC, a commissioner under the Melbourne response scheme, after disclosing his own abuse in 2006.
He said Mr O’Callaghan told him he could go to the police if he wanted, but based on what Mr Hersbach had told him, he did not think anything would happen.
Mr Hersbach did not approach the police.
He later received a compensation offer of $17,500.
“The Catholic Church has taken so much from me,” Mr Hersbach said.
“It had complete and utter control of my life.”
He said the irony was that just as he took action against the church, but was then asked to sign away his rights to take further action against them as part of the deed of settlement in which he received $17,500 in compensation.
Melbourne Response upheld 326 complaints since 1996
Ms Furness said Melbourne Archdiocese data revealed that 351 complaints had been made under the Melbourne Response scheme since it began in 1996.
“Of these complaints, 326 were upheld by an independent commissioner, nine were not upheld and 16 are currently defined as being undetermined,” she said.
“The undetermined claims are either dormant, ongoing, the complainant is deceased, or the complainant is described as considering civil proceedings.”
Of the 326 upheld complaints, the data showed 80 per cent occurred between 1950 and 1980 inclusive, 14 per cent occurred between 1981 and 1990, and 2 per cent related to alleged incidents between 1991 and 2006, Ms Furness said.
The remaining 4 per cent related to incidents between 1937 and 1949, she said.
She said 77 individuals had been named as the subject of one or more of the upheld complaints.
“Of these, just over half, 42, are known by the archbishop to be dead,” she said.
She said 84 per cent of complaints heard by the Melbourne Response scheme were about priests.
Kevin McDonough, former vicar general, questioned about handling of sex abuse cases
Attorney Jeff Anderson questioned a second top official of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Wednesday and again walked away complaining that he’d been cheated out of time.
Father Kevin McDonough, a former vicar general, was supposed to undergo eight hours of court-ordered testimony in preparation for a civil sex abuse trial, but Anderson claims he only got six and a half.
In a press release, Anderson says McDonough ended the deposition early on the advice of his counsel when pressed about whether claims made in the present lawsuit have been exaggerated. Anderson is suing the archdiocese on the grounds that it poses a threat to the entire population.
The crusading St. Paul attorney intends to take his complaint against McDonough to a Ramsey County judge — an act that could ultimately make the transcript and videotape open to the public.
Wednesday’s showdown comes two weeks after John Nienstedt submitted to four hours of interrogation. That same day Anderson accused the archbishop of walking out mid-question and failing to turn over all relevant documents ahead of time. Just this week the archdiocese handed over more than a dozen cases files related to internal investigations, one of which totals 3,207 pages.
A statement released Wednesday by the archdiocese responds to Anderson’s latest complaint by saying McDonough cooperated throughout the eight-hour interview. During that time, McDonough “clarified misstatements and mischaracterizations” of the alleged crimes that took place during his watch. It concludes:
Father McDonough emphasized that he always had the best interests of children and the vulnerable in mind when doing his work. He also acknowledged that the harm cause(d) by sexual abuse is serious and grave.
As vicar general, between 1991 and 2008, McDonough vetted sex abuse claims. Internal memos show that, for years, he reported to his superiors about the archdiocese’s exposure to lawsuits. His tenure as clerical detective first came into question publicly this fall with the release of an MPR report suggesting he and other officials shielded a priest who’s now in jail.
A 56-page report released Monday by an internal task force criticized the archdiocese for “a flawed organizational structure with little oversight” that “created opportunities” for abuse. It passes blame on the institution rather than the people in charge.