Lawyers criticise "Towards Healing"

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated 5 November 2013)

Australia's national Royal Commission (into institutional responses to child sexual abuse) is investigating the establishment and operation of the Catholic Church's so-called "Towards Healing" process. The Commission is exploring how this process works in practice.

For years, Broken Rites has pointed out that the Catholic Church in Australia is set up cleverly as a property trust, so that victims cannot sue the church for the damage caused to their life by the church's child-abuse. The church prefers that victims seek compensation through its own in-house system (such as Towards Healing), rather than through civil litigation. Towards Healing gives a victim a much smaller amount than what he or she would receive through civil litigation. To receive the token amount from Towards Healing, victims must sign a settlement deed giving up their right to sue the church for the proper amount.

Since the Royal Commission began its work in early 2013, church spokesman have claimed that the Catholic Church is prepared to make a few improvements to the Towards Healing system to make it more "independent".

But legal experts say that the church's proposed "independent" system would still be an attempt to avoid making the church's trustees liable for the conduct of its priests and religious personnel and therefore able to be sued.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance points out that the church's proposed "independent"  system still aims to prevent victims from receiving full compensation.

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Dr Andrew Morrison SC said in a statement on 3 October 2013 "The bitter experience of victims suggests no body appointed by the church is truly independent."

"There already exists a truly independent body to deal with compensation - it is called the court system.

"All the Church needs to do is concede that its trustees (who hold its immense wealth) are its secular arm and are liable for the conduct of its priests and therefore able to be sued. That is the law in the rest of the common law world. Why not here?

"These are the reforms the church should accept forthwith or the Royal Commission should urgently recommend be imposed by law."

Article in The Age

On 5 October 2013, The Age newpaper in Melbourne published an article about Towards Healing, written by Judy Courtin, who is is a doctoral student at Monash University's law faculty, conducting research into sexual assault and the Catholic Church.

Judy Courtin's article concludes:

  • "If the church was sincere about putting victims first and being compassionate, it would initiate and promote the requisite law reform to give victims equal access to justice in the courts. Further, those clergy guilty of concealing sex crimes and protecting the offenders would come forward and face justice. They would confess and say sorry.
  • "If the church was sincere about doing the ''Christian'' thing, it would dismantle the miserly and unjust barricades erected around its assets and give back to the victims from whom it has taken everything.
  • "The Towards Healing process must go. But the church must pay."

Judy Courtin's article may be seen on The Age  website: