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Published: 23 October 2019
Author: Ian Dallas

Landmark compensation settlement with Catholic Church signals hope for other survivors seeking justice

The Catholic Church has recently reached a significant settlement with a child sexual abuse survivor, while also making major legal concessions.

As reported by the ABC, the Catholic Church is expected to pay more than $1 million in compensation after reaching a settlement with a man who was raped by Australia's worst paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale.

The man, known by the pseudonym “JCB” to protect his privacy, was raped by notorious paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, when he was only nine years old.

The Church has for a long time resisted admitting that it knew of complaints against Ridsdale in the past, despite conceding to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that it had knowledge at the time.

JCB was forced to take legal action to reach this settlement against the current Bishop of Ballarat, Bishop Bird. The matter has previously come before the Supreme Court for a technical ruling as reported by Kate Malone’s on 5 June 2019 in her blog ‘Will A Recent Judgement Open New Avenue For Suing The Church for Sex Abuse”.

Case could prompt hundreds of compensation claims to be filed by other victims of Ridsdale

After a long and protracted legal battle, the Church has finally accepted that the previous Bishop of Ballarat, Bishop Mulkearns, breached his duty of care to the survivor because he knew about prior complaints of Ridsdale sexually abusing a child.

The Catholic Church has a history of taking legal points in defending its position against claims for compensation. The use by the Church of the “Ellis defence” has been well documented. This defence involved an argument that the body which held the assets of the Church was not able to be sued and that the employment of the priest was not employment by that trust body.

In addition, the Church, like other defendants, used the limitations statute to argue that no action could be taken as the events complained of had occurred such a long time ago.

Court and lawyers are common place for the Catholic Church

Both these defences have now been swept away in Victoria by Acts of Parliament. The lessons to be learnt from the settlement of JCB’s case are that legal action from the courts is often necessary to force the Catholic Church to come to the party. This is so even when the evidence against it is overwhelming.

Although this settlement is heartening for survivors of child sexual abuse, it does not mean that a complete change of heart has been taken by the Church. At RCT Law we consider that legal representation is essential in claims for compensation for child sexual abuse. We will advocate strongly on your behalf and always take into account the impact upon you. However, when dealing with a defendant such as the Catholic Church, we will always use every tool available to obtain the best possible outcome.

The ABC reports that Ridsdale is serving a 29-year sentence in Ararat's Hopkins Correctional Centre for child sex offences. He is believed to have sexually abused hundreds of children over 40 years. The compensation claim for the Catholic Church in this case is anticipated to exceed $1 million.

While there is no amount of money that will reverse the trauma endured and will reverse the opportunities lost for JCB, it is one step toward justice and closure and the compensation will enable time and space for healing.

Survivors of child sexual abuse should be encouraged by the result of this case, and ensure that they obtain expert legal advice in relation to their own case.

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