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Published: 25 August 2014
Author: Penny Savidis

Church has spent $11M counselling abuse victims

The Catholic Church in Melbourne has spent in excess of $11 million on the Melbourne Response’s Carelink scheme for survivors of sexual abuse, it was revealed today at the Royal Commission. Carelink is promoted as a free counselling and professional support service for those complaining about clergy abuse.

Of the $11m plus Carelink expenditure, more than $3 million has been spent on the administration of the service, including staff costs.

The figures were released today during Susan Sharkey’s evidence before the Commission about her role as co-ordinator of Carelink.

It was also revealed that about 25% of those referred to the service were "secondary victims" with the remainder "primary victims" who had directly suffered alleged abuse. Secondary victims can include partners, spouses and parents of those claiming abuse by priests.

Ms. Sharkey admitted that Carelink received more than 600 referrals for counselling and further medical care between 1996 and 2014. Currently Carelink has approximately 200 clients.

The counselling service has therefore spent an average of some $18,000 on each primary and secondary victim referred to it, although when indirect costs are taken into account this figure drops to an approximate average of $12,000 per person for treatment.

She said that, in establishing the counselling service, the Church had initially envisaged that the agency would be able to deal with the expected numbers of cases within six months. However, the service has now been a part of the Church’s sexual abuse process for 18 years, with no sign of it being wound up.

According to the witness statement submitted by Archbishop Denis Hart, there is no limit on the assistance Carelink can provide to victims, and no cap on the amount the Archdiocese will pay for such support.

In fact, Ms. Sharkey said that she was not aware of monetary limits having been placed on Carelink’s client services and that the costs of Carelink were increasing from year to year.

"Orchestrated complaints"

The co-ordinator of Carelink said that both she and the service had been subjected to "orchestrated complaints" by some organisations. What these complaints were about or who they were “orchestrated” by was left unexamined.

A document shown to the Commission during Ms. Sharkey’s evidence revealed that it would be "naive" not to acknowledge the "significant impact" of issues that had been subject to investigations by the Psychologist’s board had on Ms. Sharkey’s "wellbeing".

It is not a well-kept secret within the sector that Carelink and the coordinator have had a number of complaints made against them. A previous witness before the Commission known as “AFA” has referred to a meeting with Ms. Sharkey and psychiatrist Sue Brann as “pretty confronting”.

A further witness Paul Hersbach stated that a meeting with Ms. Sharkey and Professor Richard Ball had been "exceptionally traumatic" and that he felt as though he was "being interrogated" and that the process was "extremely confronting".

Ms. Sharkey stated that her recall of AFA’s demeanour in their meeting did not match how he later described their meeting.

The hearings continue tomorrow with the continued appearance of Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart.

If you have been a victim of abuse or any other crime, or know of someone who has, please call us on 1300 366 441 or find us at an office near you.

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