Background Information


1. Call for the details of the 35 young men who suicided in the years following clergy sexual assaults to be handed over immediately to the State Coroner as a matter of urgency


The state government’s recent decision to put on hold a public inquiry into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is unconscionable and carries a serious risk of further suicides by victims of clergy sexual assault.

A Ballarat detective discovered the names of some 26 Victorian men who committed suicide in the years following sexual abuse by one or both of convicted paedophiles Robert Best and Gerald Ridsdale. After publicity about these suicides, family members of more victims came forward. This brings the above number to 35. This number relates to just two clergy in two schools.

The real number in Victoria is unknown. The details of all the young men who have committed suicide must be immediately handed over to the State Coroner. A primary purpose of the Coroner’s Act is to reduce the number of preventable deaths in Victoria.

Further deaths by suicide of victims of Catholic clergy abuse are preventable. We must stop these suicides.

The State Coroner has the power to reopen these cases if she is satisfied there are new facts and circumstances and that it is appropriate to do so. The Coroner also has broad powers to subpoena documents and witnesses, to make findings and to offer recommendations.


2. Independent state-led statutory inquiry


Our Australian legal system protects the Church and its paedophiles at the expense of the victims and their families. There is no legal entity for the Church, including religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, that can be sued for historical sex offences. What is known as the ‘Ellis defence’ prevents victims from being able to sue the Catholic Church as it takes refuge behind its status as a non-incorporated body. This renders the Church effectively immune from litigation in these types of historical sex cases.

By the same token, the Catholic Church cannot be held vicariously liable for the sexual crimes of its priests and brothers.

Apart from VOCAT, the only avenue of redress left to victims is the Church’s own internal processes, Towards Healing (used broadly across the nation), and the Melbourne Response, which considers Melbourne Archdiocese cases. These processes and decisions are ‘privatised’ and the Church is not accountable to any civil authority in relation to these protocols, and there is no external review process. There is no natural justice. Ex gratia compensation rates are very low and involve a deed of release preventing any further civil action.

Re-abuse and especially re-traumatisation are common.

Government action is imperative. Ongoing inaction increases the risk of further suicides and augments the deep-rooted injustices present in our legal system.

 

 

Demands


  1. Hold an immediate and urgent Independent state-led statutory inquiry into Catholic Clergy Sexual Assault in Victoria. The extremely high rate of suicides of young men sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy especially in the Ballarat Diocese, and the number of threatened future suicides, demands immediate government attention and action.

  2. Immediately hand over to the State Coroner the details of all the people who have suicided in the years following Catholic clergy sexual assault.

  3. The release to the police of complete files and documents relating to all cases and/or complaints that have been received and/or processed in relation to alleged and/or convicted clergy sexual abusers from the Melbourne Archdiocese, the Ballarat Diocese, all other dioceses, the ‘Melbourne Response’, ‘Towards Healing’ and the religious orders.

  4. Review and repeal or amendment of the Roman Catholic Trusts Act 1907, and other such trusts in Victoria, thereby addressing the Ellis Defence.

  5. Legislative reform making reporting to the police of clergy sexual offences mandatory. This legislative requirement would affect all current and former Catholic Church clergy and employees.

  6. As is the case now in Ireland (where the State has set up a redress board which provides and delivers these services) the Victorian State should take over all aspects of investigations and delivery of services to victims and provide compensation. The Catholic Church would not be involved in these processes at all. The Catholic Church should be required to fund these services and compensation for victims.


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