The Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response for victims of pedophile priests is sound and appropriate, the Melbourne archbishop says.
The Catholic Church might increase payouts to abuse victims in the Melbourne archdiocese although it maintains that its much-criticised complaints scheme works well and is caring.
The church is considering lifting or removing the $75,000 cap on compensation payments to victims in the Melbourne archdiocese.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said overall the Melbourne Response scheme remains a sound and appropriate mechanism for responding to complaints of child sex abuse.
The system operates effectively and efficiently and the process is conducted with professionalism and real compassion, he told the abuse royal commission.
He said he had been moved by reports of how “caring” the scheme’s independent commissioners were.
While victims have criticised the Melbourne Response for adding to their trauma, Archbishop Hart said there had been only a relatively small number of complaints out of the process.
“There (is) evidence from time to time of very real compassion shown,” he told the commission on Monday.
“I know that’s not universal but it shows that it is possible and it shows that in the type of work that we are doing that it has to be an objective.”
Critics say the Melbourne Response, set up in 1996 to handle sex abuse claims in the Melbourne archdiocese, has re-traumatised victims of pedophile priests, with overly legalistic interviews and low compensation payouts.
The church has appointed a former federal court judge to determine how compensation should be paid to abuse victims in the future, including whether to agree to victims’ pleas that the cap be increased or abolished.
“While I believe the Melbourne Response has been very effective, I believe the time is right for us to conduct this review so that we can be certain that we have arrangements in place for victims that recognise the abuse they have suffered and the effect of that abuse on their lives,” Archbishop Hart said.
Melbourne archdiocese executive director of administration Francis Moore conceded that the church, which is operating with a budget surplus “in the millions”, could afford to double or triple the $75,000 compensation cap.
“I think it would certainly require some adjustments to the way the archdiocese operated, and whether the archdiocese could continue all of the programs that it currently provides,” he told the commission.
“Could it be managed? Yes, I suspect it could, but not without impacts elsewhere.”
Anthony Foster, whose two daughters were raped by notorious abuser Father Kevin O’Donnell, said Archbishop Hart could have immediately removed the cap and reassessed all existing cases.
He said the review was a delaying tactic, given victims were promised in May the issues would be looked at in four weeks.
“That hasn’t been done and instead a different process has been put in place simply to delay the inevitable, which is eventually a redress scheme across the nation, but which could’ve been a real response in Melbourne to the need of victims now,” Mr Foster said.
REVIEW OF THE MELBOURNE RESPONSE:
* Run by former federal court judge Donnell Ryan QC
* Might increase or remove $75,000 compensation cap
* Look at how past compensation payouts should be reviewed
* Speak to victims, lawyers, church counsellors and others
* Present report in November
* Cap set at $50,000 in 1996; $55,000 in 2000; $75,000 in 2008
* Average payment $33,000 under scheme; average $293,000 if church successfully sued.