Sunday, July 11, 2010

Church accepts child rape liability

Church accepts child rape liability
By Michael McKenna From: The Australian July 11, 2010 11:56PM

The Catholic Church has accepted legal liability over the abuse of 13 girls at a Queensland school / AP Source: AP
Church admits legal liability for abuse
Up to 13 girls to receive settlement
"Full disclosure of negligence needed"

THE Catholic Church has made a sweeping admission of legal liability for the rape and sexual abuse of young girls at a Queensland primary school.

In one of the most comprehensive wins for victims of child abuse in Australia, Toowoomba bishop Bill Morris has formally admitted liability and opened the door to a massive compensation payout to 13 schoolgirls in a proposed mediated settlement to be overseen by former High Court judge Ian Callinan QC.

It is one of the few cases in Australia where an institution - either church or government - has not tried to dodge liability with legal loopholes.

The girls - aged nine and 10 at the time of their abuse - were raped or molested by veteran teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes, who also served as the primary school's child protection officer in 2007 and 2008.

Byrnes has pleaded guilty to 46 sex abuse charges, including 10 counts of rape, and is awaiting sentence.

A parent of one of the young victims told The Australian that any settlement would have to involve full disclosure of the church's negligence in protecting the children and later attempts at a cover-up.

"I want everyone to know what they have done, how and why," she said. "They have to be held to account so that hopefully this won't happen again."

Last year, the principal of the Toowoomba school became the first person in Australia, and among only a handful worldwide, to be charged under laws mandating the reporting to police of any suspicions of sexual abuse involving a child.

The legal case could lead to a huge compensation payout - including compensatory and punitive damages.

A 2001 landmark case, involving the abuse of a former schoolgirl at the Toowoomba Preparatory School - which led to the resignation of governor-general Peter Hollingworth - led to a record $834,000 payout.

In a letter to parents, Bishop Morris admitted liability under the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 and offered a "sincere apology" for the abuse of their children by Byrnes.

Bishop Morris proposed a mediation process, overseen by Mr Callinan, in a bid to resolve the legal claim as quickly as possible.

Read more about the Catholic Church accepting child rape liability at The Australian.

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