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Abuse Claims Against Religious Organisations

I was abused by the Catholic Church. Should I claim against them directly or via another process?

The Catholic Church has launched its own processes through which abuse victims can claim compensation, but concerns remain as to whether this is the best way to reach settlement.

We act for survivors of clerical abuse in church, religious schools and other settings.

We have successfully resolved claims against a number of religious organisations such as the Catholic Church, The Salvation Army, the Anglican Church and the Uniting Church.

Claims against the Catholic Church

In the past, it was almost impossible to sue the Catholic Church for damages relating to historical child abuse due to a 2007 court decision known as the Ellis case. As a result, abuse survivors were ushered towards the Church’s own redress processes, known as the Melbourne Response for complaints involving the Melbourne Archdiocese and Towards Healing for claims involving other dioceses.

An independent review into the Melbourne Response resulted in the maximum payment available under that scheme being increased from $75,000 to $150,000. There is no cap as far as the Towards Healing process. Both of these processes have nevertheless attracted significant criticism, including from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

While the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing processes both still exist, we strongly recommend other methods of resolving claims against the Catholic Church, such as out of court negotiations directly with the lawyers for the relevant diocese/Archdiocese, litigation in court, or the government’s Redress Scheme.

Taking matters against the Catholic Church to court has also become easier, thanks to legislation introduced by the State government to overturn the so-called Ellis defence. In March 2018, the Victorian State government introduced the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018 (Vic) into parliament which ended the “Ellis defence” that had been relied upon by the Catholic Church to avoid claims of historical sexual abuse for years. The proposed legislation will require unincorporated non-government organisations such as the Catholic Church to nominate a legal entity to be sued in claims of abuse and is scheduled to come into effect by 1 May 2019.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a number of public hearings or case studies into the Catholic Church and its processes. You can read more about the Royal Commission’s findings below:

  • December 2013 and January 2014 hearings into the establishment, operation and review of the Towards Healing process by the Catholic Church, including the experiences of four survivors with the Towards Healing process (Case Study 4)
  • March 2014 hearing into the response of the Catholic Church to the complaint made by John Ellis under Towards Healing (Case Study 8)
  • Numerous 2015 and 2016 hearings into the response of the Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat and other Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat to allegations of child sexual abuse, and the response of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers in St Patrick’s Province, Australia, to allegations of child sexual abuse against Christian Brothers (Case Study 28)
  • August 2015 hearing into the history and development of the Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse prior to the introduction of Towards Healing (Case Study 31); and
  • February 2017 hearing into the current policies and procedures of Catholic Church Authorities in Australia in relation to child-protection and child-safety standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse (Case Study 50).

Claims against the Anglican Church and Anglicare

Claims against the Anglican Church generally involve abuse by Anglican priests or church workers.

The Anglican welfare agency known as Anglicare has its own redress scheme in Victoria. The scheme covers abuse that occurred while abuse survivors were in the care of Anglicare Victoria or one or more of its founding agencies – the Mission of St James and St John; St John’s Homes for Boys and Girls; and the Mission to the Streets and Lanes.

It is also possible to take claims involving the Anglican Church and Anglicare to court, or to resolve them through other avenues, such as direct out of court settlement negotiations with their lawyers, pursuing a government Redress Scheme claim, and other options such as victims of crime claims and Sentencing Act applications. We can give you advice about which option(s) are best suited to your needs.

In March 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a public hearing or case study into the current policies and procedures of Anglican Church authorities in Australia regarding child protection and child-safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Read more about the Royal Commission’s findings resulting from Case Study 52.

Claims against the Uniting Church

Ryan Carlisle Thomas can assist survivors with claims involving the Uniting Church and has done so for many years.

We were the first law firm to devise and negotiate a protocol with the Victorian Government to settle compensation claims outside the court system. This protocol helps claimants secure monetary payments and statements of apology, which could otherwise be strenuously resisted in the courts. The protocol has been adopted by a number of other religious and non-government organisations, including the Uniting Church.

It is also possible to take claims involving the Uniting Church to court or to resolve them through other avenues, such as pursuing a government Redress Scheme claim or other options such as victims of crime claims and Sentencing Act applications. We can give you advice about which options are best suited to your needs.

In March 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a public hearing or case study into the current policies and procedures of Uniting Church in Australia in relation to child-protection and child-safety standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse (case study 56).

Read more about the Royal Commission’s findings resulting from Case Study 56.

Claims against the Salvation Army

Ryan Carlisle Thomas can assist survivors with claims involving The Salvation Army and has done so for many years.

We were the first law firm to devise and negotiate a protocol with the Victorian Government to settle compensation claims outside the court system. This protocol helps claimants secure monetary payments and statements of apology, which could otherwise be strenuously resisted in the courts. The protocol has been adopted by a number of other religious and non-government organisations, including The Salvation Army.

It is also possible to take claims involving The Salvation Army to court, or to resolve them through other avenues, such as pursuing a government Redress Scheme claim or other options such as victims of crime claims and Sentencing Act applications. We can give you advice about which option(s) are best suited to your needs.

In October 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a public hearing or case study into The Salvation Army (Southern Territory) (TSAS). The hearing (case study 33) examined the experiences of its former child residents, as well as the response of TSAS to allegations of child sexual abuse at boys’ homes in Eden Park (SA), Box Hill and Bayswater (Victoria) and Nedlands (WA) between 1940 and 1990.

Read more about the Royal Commission’s findings resulting from Case Study 33.

In December 2016, the Royal Commission held a public hearing or case study into the current policies and procedures of The Salvation Army in relation to child protection and child-safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Read more about the Royal Commission’s findings resulting from Case Study 49.

If you have been a victim of abuse 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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