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Published: 27 February 2017
Author: Amy Olver

Christian Brothers underpaid abuse survivors on compensation

Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse

Christian Brothers underpaid survivors of sexual abuse because they believed they were “going to be taken to the cleaners”, the Royal Commission into Child Institutional Abuse heard last week.

The Commission is conducting a public hearing into the factors which contributed to the widespread occurrence child sexual abuse in Catholic Church institutions as well as the response of these institutions to the allegations of abuse.

During the second week of the hearing, the Commission heard evidence from Catholic Church leaders from the Sisters of Mercy, Salesians of Don Bosco, Order of St John of God, Marist Brothers, Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers.

96 religious sisters implicated in abuse

Sister Loch, the Institute Leader of Sisters of Mercy, publicly acknowledged that many of the children who lived in institutions operated by the Sisters of Mercy were physically and sexually abused. The Commission released figures which indicated that 96 religious sisters, from various orders, were perpetrators of sexual abuse.

The Commission also heard from Peter Clich, the Provisional Leader of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The Commission’s data shows that:

  • 1015 people made allegations of child sexual abuse against the Christian Brothers;
  • The average age of victims of abuse was 11 years old
  • 98% of them were male
  • Christian Brothers have made $48.5 million in 763 payments to survivors, which is the highest total payment of any religious order
  • 301 Christian Brothers were alleged to be perpetrators of sexual abuse
  • 22% (almost 1 in 5) Christian Brothers who operated between 1950 and 2010, has been the subject of allegations of sexual abuse.

Brother Clinch said he was “appalled, shamed, humbled” when he saw the figured provided by the Commission.

Brother Clinch acknowledged that the Christian Brothers have received requests to revisit 201 settlements of survivors. 165 settlements were reopened and resulted in additional money being paid.

In explaining why the compensation was initially inadequate, Brother Clinch admitted there were “elements of denial and we thought we were going to be taken to the cleaners...”

We have found a large gap between talk and action

On 7 May 2014, the Deputy Province Leader Brother Julian McDonald told the Royal Commission that the Christian Brothers were prepared to review any settlements, even though Deeds of Release had been executed which claimants felt had been resolved on “unjust terms”. Br McDonald told the hearing:

I will say here and now that any settlement that is regarded by the person settled with as unjust will be revisited”. [Transcript reference WA2254:35]

Further, on 22 May 2015 Province Leader, Brother Peter Clinch told the Royal Commission that settlements were being actively re-examined:

Any process that we started, and there may have been mistakes done in the past, I acknowledge that, and we don't stay with that mistake in the past and we need to  continually, even to today, continually to review what is happening and the  process that's happened and the compensations that are paid. And if sums were well under what they should have been - I wasn't there, I don't know the reasoning at this stage, but I do know that we need to re-examine where those cases are such.” [Transcript reference C8438:25]

However, in our view the response to survivors requests for revisits from the Christian Brothers has been disappointing.

Despite requests the Christian Brothers have failed to define what constitutes an unjust terms or settlement. This has lead to heightened expectations that unfortunately have not been met.

While in some matters the Christian Brothers have paid further compensation, in many cases they have taken months to respond to requests for revisits and then denied to revisit on the basis the previous settlement was not unjust.

Their denials fail to take into account significant changes to the law including the abolition of the Statute of Limitations and the considerable evidence that has been unearthed by the passage of time and the Commissions inquiry. 

Unfortunately, this lack of clarity has lead to survivors of abuse feeling once again disappointed and angry. This is a timely reminder of the importance of clarity in any redress fund and the need to meet the expectations of survivors who have waited for justice for so long.

The hearing continues this week.

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