Church trying to limit financial blame, inquiry told

Source: The Courier

The Catholic Church is reverting to unaccountable practices, seeking to limit financial accountability to victims of sexual abuse, an inquiry has heard. 

Academic Dr Tom Keating told the Victorian inquiry into the handling of sexual abuse that the Catholic leaders had sought to wind back reforms introduced after Vatican II and that response mechanisms established by the church in Victoria sought to protect its financial and legal liabilities.

He said his own experience negotiating for compensations from the Christian Brothers, some of whose members were responsible for abuse in Ballarat schools, showed the order “had little regard for victims”.

“The effects (of abuse) become a part of the person,” he said.

“They can’t be compartmentalised, or put to one side. They are not amenable to rational persuasion.” 

He called for changes to the law which would allow civil penalties against clergy and religious orders and for Catholic leaders to take responsibility for instances of abuse when dealing with victims.

Dr Keating disputed recent statements by Sydney Archbishop George Pell suggesting press reporting represented an unfair campaign against the Catholic Church.

“If Dr Pell thinks the depth and experience of abuse has been exaggerated, he understands little or nothing,” Dr Keating said.

Catholic leaders are expected to give evidence to the inquiry next year, with their 147-page submission released in October outlining improved child safety practices.

For the first time, the inquiry heard of the handling of abuse from religious organisations other than the Catholic Church. 

Prominent Jewish abuse victim and campaigner Manny Waks and his father Zephaniah used their evidence to outline instances of historic and contemporary abuse in Jewish institutions.

Mr Waks said the inquiry, launched after a police report into suicides in the Ballarat region was leaked, had helped see a national royal commission established.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee said evidence from Mr Zephaniah Waks was suppressed until it has been reviewed due to matters currently before the courts.