Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Catholic Church settles with abuse victims

Catholic Church settles with abuse victims
Brigid Glanville reported this story on Monday, July 12, 2010 18:24:00

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SHANE MCLEOD: Now to the troubling issue of child sexual abuse. For some victims of abuse, just summoning up the courage to go to police can be a difficult decision and then achieving justice can be difficult also.

Shortly we'll hear from a victim about her feelings of anger when her abuser was deemed unfit to stand trial due to his mental health.

First though to a case where there's been a breakthrough of sorts. The Catholic Church is accepting liability for the rape and sexual abuse of girls at a Catholic primary school in southern Queensland.

In an extraordinary move the Toowoomba Bishop, Bill Morris, has accepted the church's liability for claims made by 13 victims of abuse by a former teacher. The girls, then aged nine and 10, were abused and raped by their teacher who was also the school's child protection officer.

Families of the victims say they will now proceed with their compensation claims but say the admission is more important to highlight the abuse and to make sure it never happens again.

Brigid Glanville reports.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Many child sex abuse cases take years to go through the courts. Litigation is painful and expensive. But for 13 school children in Toowoomba their process is now going to be a whole lot easier.

The Catholic diocese has admitted liability in relation to the sexual abuse and rape of 13 girls aged nine to 10 at one of their primary schools.

In a statement released today Bishop Bill Morris from the Toowoomba diocese said:

WILLIAM MORRIS (voiceover): The children and their families affected by the former teacher's actions remain my highest priority and my thoughts and prayers continue to be with them.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Bishop Morris confirmed that the Catholic Church has proposed that the former judge of the High Court, Ian Callinan, mediate any civil claims by victims of the former teacher.

WILLIAM MORRIS (voiceover): I recognise the process of negotiating and settling claims can be stressful and worrying for the claimants and their families and it is my hope that these matters can be resolved as considerately and expeditiously as possible for them.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Gerard Byrnes was a teacher and child protection officer at a Catholic primary school in Toowoomba. He has pleaded guilty to 46 sex abuse charges, including 10 counts of rape. The abuse happened in 2007 and 2008.

Damian Scattini, from law firm Slater and Gordon, who represents five victims, has welcomed the church's admission.

DAMIAN SCATTINI: It's a case where one of the, a parent had told the principal that this man had this predilection and they did nothing about it. This man went on to abuse 13 school girls in this, in the classroom. He was the man trusted with their protection. If they were facing any sort of abuse he was the, you know, the pastoral care officer when in he was in fact the man who was doing it.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Last year the principal of the primary school was charged under laws which mandate the reporting to police of any suspicions of sexual abuse. But not all cases are this easy.

It's highly unusual for the Catholic Church to admit liability.

Barrister Greg Barns, from the Australian Lawyers Alliance, has been involved in a number of cases with the church.

GREG BARNS: And particularly large scale litigants like governments or institutions such as churches, need to look very careful at each case and if it's clear that liability should be admitted then it should be admitted very early on.

The sort of tactical reasons that people use for not admitting liability can put victims through a lot of pain and, as I say, an enormous amount of expense. And if we can curtail the cost in the legal system, but also from a moral perspective, reduce the amount of hurt to people then we ought to do it and certainly the Catholic Church, if it's done what it's said to have done in this particularly case, should be congratulated.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: The admission could now lead to a huge compensation payout to the victims.

Damian Scattini from Slater and Gordon.

DAMIAN SCATTINI: Obviously we'll be looking for compensation for the children because, not surprisingly, they're going to need therapy, in some cases for many, many years. There has to be an element in there for the church to appreciate that they've got to stop this. That it's, it has to be cheaper to not have this happen than to allow it to happen and pay people off.

So, there's all sorts of things to discuss but, you know, that's really between us, families and the church.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: A sentence date for the former teacher, Gerard Byrnes, is expected to be set later this month.

SHANE MCLEOD: Brigid Glanville reporting.

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