Sydney’s archbishop controls funds holding church property and cash worth more than $1.2 billion, an inquiry has heard.
The Sydney Catholic archdiocese controls funds worth more than $1.2 billion and has regularly made multi-million dollar tax-free profits.
The royal commission into child sex abuse heard the archdiocese banked surpluses of between $7.7 million and $44 million between 2004 and 2007, a period during which the Catholic church was aggressively defending a claim for $100,000 brought against it by former altar boy John Ellis.
Mr Ellis was abused by a pedophile priest from the age of 13 to 17 during the 1970s.
The church ultimately spent $1.5 million defending the case, winning in 2007 then pursuing Mr Ellis for costs before abandoning the claim and paying him $570,000 for counselling, a holiday and renovations.
Sydney Archdiocese business manager Danny Casey told the commission on Tuesday that the church’s funds, worth $1.24 billion, included extensive property holdings and cash and were ultimately controlled by the archbishop.
The commission also heard the church is spending more on victim compensation and less on legal fees than in the past.
Mr Casey said surpluses recorded by the diocese were exempt from income and capital gains tax and were reinvested to allow the church to do “good works”.
The commission heard the archdiocese makes payments to victims of sexual abuse by priests from a $426 million dollar “procuration fund”.
The fund is part of a complex asset base that includes an $810 million dollar Catholic Development Fund (CDF), described by Mr Casey as an “internal treasury” to the church.
Assets such as schools and nursing homes are not included in the archdiocese accounts.
Mr Casey said the archdiocese had grown its assets by 86 per cent in the 13 years since 2001, which is when Cardinal George Pell became archbishop.
However, payments to abuse victims had also increased while the church had slashed its spending on lawyers, he said.
“The total value of payments made to victims was $1.281 million between 2001 and the end of 2007,” Mr Casey said.
“It is now $5.51 million since the end of 2007.”
Mr Casey rejected earlier evidence that Dr Pell had signed off on all offers made to sexual abuse victims.
Previously, Monsignor Brian Rayner, the former chancellor of the archdiocese, had testified he told Dr Pell of all offers made to victims, including $25,000 initially offered to Mr Ellis.
Dr Pell has denied knowledge of the offer, describing it as “grotesque” and Mr Casey told the commission that Mons Rayner did not need the archbishop’s authorisation to act.
Dr Pell has expressed regret at the handling of Mr Ellis’s case and on Tuesday Mr Casey also described his actions in the matter as a mistake.
The commission saw a 2007 email from the church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Wesgarth, which stated that Mr Casey would not pursue Mr Ellis over costs if Mr Ellis agreed never to talk to the press about his case.
Mr Casey said he did not recall saying that but “if that was expressed by me it was completely wrong”.
Dr Pell returns to the commission on Wednesday.