Church says it will "revisit" its payouts for SOME Melbourne victims

By a Broken Rites researcher (article posted 6 April 2014)

In a written statement issued on 4 April 2014, the Catholic Church archdiocese of Melbourne says it will "revisit" its system of compensating church-abuse victims in the Melbourne-Geelong area, with a view to  either increasing or removing the current maximum of $75,000 per victim. At present, in 2014, most Melbourne victims are lucky to receive half that amount, or less, even if the church-abuse has devastated a family's life.

The statement, issued on behalf of Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, promised that the archdiocese would seek input from victims "into how compensation should be awarded in the future and how past cases should be reviewed".

Limitations

The following analysis from Broken Rites demonstrates that Archbishop Hart's  promise has some limitations:

  • Australia is divided into 30 or so Catholic diocese (seven of these dioceses have the prefix "arch-"). The Melbourne "arch" diocese has a compensation system called the "Melbourne Response", which operates only in the Melbourne region. Apart from Melbourne, all of Australia's other dioceses have a different compensation system, called "Towards Healing".
  • Geographically, the Melbourne archdiocese is confined to the Melbourne metropolitan area (plus the city of Geelong and a few small towns near Melbourne). This archdiocese does not cover the remainder of the state of Victoria. Victoria's country areas are covered by three other dioceses - one for western Victoria (which has a cathedral at Ballarat), one for northern Victoria (with a cathedral at Bendigo) and one for eastern Victoria (with a cathedral at Sale).
  • The Melbourne Response does not cover all priests in Melbourne. It covers only "diocesan" priests - that is, those who officially belong to this archdiocese. The Melbourne Response does not cover the numerous priests in Melbourne who belong to the various religious orders (such as Jesuits, Franciscans, Salesians, Dominicans,Blessed Sacrament Fathers, Sacred Heart Fathers and so on), as each of these religious orders has its own national leader (who is not a bishop). For example, priests in Melbourne from the Australia-wide Salesian religious order would be covered by the Towards Healing system, not by the Melbourne Response.
  • And the Melbourne Response does not cover religious Brothers (such as the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers or the De La Salle Brothers), or nuns (such as the Sisters of Mercy, etc), as each of these orders has its own Australian national leader.

The Melbourne statement

Archbishop Hart's announcement is the result of lengthy lobbying by two Melbourne parents (Anthony and Chrissie Foster), who had discovered that two of their daughters were sexually assaulted by a Melbourne serial-paedophile, Father Kevin O'Donnell. The Catholic Church had given O'Donnell easy access to children during fifty years, while O'Donnell's superiors and colleagues turned a blind eye to his crimes. This resulted in devastation for the Fosters' family.

(Several years ago, after a long legal battle with the Melbourne archdiocese, ;Anthony and Chrissie Foster forced the archdiocese to pay appropriate damages to the Fosters for the devasation of their family, and the Fosters are now urging the church to pay appropriate compensation to other victims whose lives have been disrupted by church-abuse.)

On 4 April 2014, ABC TV invited Anthony and Chrissie to appear on that night's "Lateline" public-affairs program. Lateline's producers consulted Archbishop Denis Hart's office, which immediately gave a  written statement to Lateline (but not, apparently to other media) on behalf of Archbishop Hart.

Here is the statement from Archbishop Hart's office to Lateline, dated 4 April 2014:

Archbishop Hart to revisit Melbourne Response compensation cap

  • The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, today announced that he would revisit the compensation arrangements under the Melbourne Response, with a view to either increasing or removing the current cap of $75,000.
  • “We acknowledge that this is a new era. In light of the report of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the work of the Royal Commission, we are looking again at victims’ needs and their views on how best to improve the compensation process,” Archbishop Hart said.
  • “We will be reaching out to victims to seek their input into how compensation should be awarded in the future and how past cases should be reviewed. Today I asked Anthony and Chrissie Foster to participate in this process.
  • “The Archdiocese will release details of the consultation later this month.
  • “We want to have the best process for helping victims and we are keen to hear their views.
  • “We plan to share the outcomes of the consultation with the Royal Commission when it examines the Melbourne Response, which is anticipated to occur later this year,” he said.

Comment by Broken Rites: We hope that, in acordance with this promise, the Melbourne archdiocese will treat victims sincerely and honestly. Victims will need to be pro-active in forcing the Melbourne archdiocese to keep its word. If this is achieved in Melbourne, victims will need to put pressure on Australia's other dioceses and the various religious orders to follow Melbourne's example.. Meanwhile, don't hold your breath.