Published: 04 September 2019
Author: Jessica Steele and Penny Savidis
Abuse compensation claim settled for Sale man
RCT Law has recently settled a compensation claim for a man who was abused as a student and boarder at St. Patrick’s College in Sale in the 1960s.
He is just one of a number of cases we have brought against St. Patrick’s in Sale, along with other institutions in the region, underscoring one for the findings of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, that Sale has been a hotspot for child abuse.
Incidence of abuse in Sale
The Diocese of Sale is one of the worst dioceses for clergy members abusing children. That was a finding made by The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Diocese encompasses a broad geographic area of Victoria’s east, from inner eastern parishes at Berwick and Narre Warren, southerly parishes at Wonthaggi, and far into the east at Lakes Entrance and beyond.
Allegations have been made against a number of members of the Sale diocese, and documents produced to the Royal Commission has proven in many cases what has long been known by survivors of abuse and their families; that the Catholic Church was aware of abuse allegations against their members for years, sometimes decades, but did nothing to prevent further abuse from occurring.
Instead, they would often hide the perpetrators within their ranks, avoiding or dismissing complaints from abuse survivors and maintaining the perpetrators in positions of employment and privilege.
St. Patrick’s College, Sale
St. Patrick’s College in Sale was one such institution that harboured a number of now-convicted paedophiles for years. RCT Law has assisted a number of survivors to access compensation in relation to the abuse they suffered at St. Patricks College, including in relation to the perpetrators named below, and in the wider Diocese of Sale.
Notorious perpetrators from College include Michael Gerard Rush (‘Brother Gerard’) and Lawrence Todd Stevenson, who have both been convicted in recent years of child sex offences from their time at this school in the 1970s and 1980s and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. Brother Gerard Joseph McNamara, who worked at St. Patrick’s College for a number of years, has also pleaded guilty to a number of historical child sex offences in relation to his time at St Paul’s Catholic College in Traralgon.
Lawrence Fitzpatrick (‘Brother Majella Fitzpatrick’) appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in 2017 charged with 99 historical child sex offences which took place whilst he was working at St. Patrick’s College in Sale, and the criminal proceedings are ongoing.
Options for survivors
There are a range of options for survivors of abuse within the Sale Diocese to have their stories heard, access compensation, and obtain justice for the wrongs done to them.
It is important to understand that survivors of abuse can access avenues for compensation without having first spoken with Victoria Police, and conversely, those who report their story to Victoria Police do not need to pursue civil compensation, unless they would like to.
Survivors of abuse, their families and members of the wider community who would like to report allegations of child sexual abuse should speak with the specialist unit of Victoria Police, the SANO Taskforce. The SANO Taskforce operates to investigate historical and new allegations of child sexual abuse. The SANO Taskforce can be contacted by email on to firstname.lastname@example.org or by free call to 1800 110 007.
There are a range of ways that survivors of clergy abuse can obtain monetary compensation. There are also means of obtaining funding for counselling services if you feel this would be beneficial to you.
Survivors of abuse should know that they do not need to form a ‘group action’ or ‘class action’ in order to successfully obtain compensation. In fact, class actions, whereby a group of individuals bring civil litigation via one representative plaintiff, are often not the best option for survivors of abuse.
At RCT Law, we’ve assisted hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse with bringing civil claims. These claims focus on the ways in which the abuse has affected survivors over the duration of their lives.
Although each claim is focused on a particular survivor, we hold extensive databases of corroborative evidence from other clients who have been abused in a similar setting, which we can use to strengthen the individual claim.
Bringing a civil claim also does not mean that the claim has to go to court. We have developed extensive protocols with a number of religious institutions which enable the majority of our matters to be settled via informal negotiations, without a court document ever being filed. In some cases, we will advise survivors that we need to file proceedings in either the County or Supreme Court, but this very rarely results in a survivor having to attend a courtroom or having to give evidence in a witness box.
National Redress Scheme
The National Redress Scheme commenced operation in July 2018 and will run for ten years. The Scheme provides survivors of abuse with the option of submitting a detailed application form and can provide varying amounts of monetary compensation capped at $150,000, along with funding for counselling and a direct personal response from the institutions involved. The National Redress Scheme can be contacted on 1800 737 377.
Although well-intentioned, the Redress Scheme is not the best option for all survivors of abuse, and many would do better via a civil claim’s pathway, even once legal fees are deducted. See our recent blog which considers the various positives and negatives of the National Redress Scheme.
Towards Healing / the Melbourne Response
There are a number of internal processes and avenues available to victims of clergy or Catholic Church abuse, which are facilitated via the Melbourne Response (for abuse within the Archdiocese of Melbourne) and Towards Healing (for abuse in other Dioceses).
However, these processes have been heavily criticised for providing meagre financial settlements and failing to sufficiently advocate for and support abuse survivors.
It is also important to understand that via each of the options outlined above, finalising a claim for compensation may come with conditions and legal obligations, which would prevent survivors of abuse from pursuing other options. As such, we’d recommend that all survivors of abuse first obtain independent legal advice about their best option, before entering into any agreement or settlement of their claim.
RCT Law offers confidential and sensitive advice regarding your matter and can provide detailed information regarding the options available to you, and the advantages/disadvantages of each.
We specialise in civil claims for compensation for physical or sexual abuse that occurred in an institutional setting. We are the largest sexual abuse legal practice in Victoria and have acted for more than 2,500 clients nationally.
Our first appointment is free, and afterwards we work on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.