Catholic Churchs claims on child abuse dismissed as laughable
19th October 2012
Updated 29th October 2012
LAWYERS at the centre of a class action against the Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy religious orders say claims by the Catholic Church that it is committed to facing up to child abuse are "laughable".
Lawyer Adrian Joel said the church had spent the past three years in legal manoeuvres to avoid responsibility for abuse in a class action involving thousands of former child migrants.
With the effectiveness of a looming Victorian parliamentary inquiry already being questioned, Mr Joel said unless it dealt with the legal barriers raised by the church, "the hearing will simply be ritualistic nonsense".
Former child migrants, sent to Australia from church homes in Britain, Ireland and Malta, and raised in appalling conditions from the 1940s to the 60s, are seeking to sue the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.
The scandal was the subject of a Senate inquiry in 2001. The federal government paid compensation of $3.7 million in 2002, while former prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised for the government's role in 2009.
Mr Joel said legal action was barred by a "mosaic of" sate and federal laws.
In Western Australia, action would be barred by the statute of limitations dictating that time is to be measured from the event rather than from a victim's awareness of the event. Hence an action was brought in the US by lead plaintiffs Emmanuel Ellul, Valerie Carmack and Hazel Goulding on behalf of up to 10,000 former child migrants.
But church lawyers successfully argued the allegations concerned a separate juridical entity in Australia called Christian Brothers Oceania, which lawyers for the plaintiffs had not heard of until the case began.
Church lawyers also successfully argued that the Sisters of Mercy was not a legal entity.
In March last year, US district judge Paul Crotty dismissed the action on jurisdictional and statute of limitations grounds. The case is now in the appellate court.
In its submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of alleged criminal abuse of children by religious and other organisations, which begins hearings today, the Catholic Church has admitted it was slow to believe victims and wrongly believed the denials of "predators". In an appendix it lists Christian Brothers CFC (meaning Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum) and Sisters of Mercy RSM (Religious Sisters of Mercy) among its religious institutes, orders and societies.
But in court in the US, the church argued that no such legal entities existed in Australia.
Victoria Police has accused the church of hindering investigations. And Patrick Parkinson, a former adviser to the church on child protection issues, has accused the church of cover-ups by "people at the highest levels of the Catholic Church nationally".