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Catholic Church releases guidelines for responding to civil claims for child sexual abuse

Archbishop Mark Coleridge has backed new guidelines which provide a more simple pathway for victims of sexual abuse to seek redress from the Catholic Church.

The Archbishop said the guidelines, to be adopted from January 1 2016, match the spirit of the Brisbane Archdiocese’s response to those harmed by Church personnel.

The new guidelines, issued by the Church’s Truth Justice and Hearing Council, include recommendations for the Church to avoid putting victims through legal proceedings where possible and paying legitimate claims without litigation.

“All dioceses and religious orders can now proceed with certainty that a more consistent and less adversarial approach to hearing claims will be adopted,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“I am pleased these have been announced with the support of the whole church in Australia, and I look forward to ensuring they become the recognised response of the Brisbane Archdiocese.”

The new guidelines have been endorsed by the Church leadership and are designed to promote justice and consistency in the way the Church handles child sexual abuse claims and conduct litigation when taken to court.

They also include a requirement for Church dioceses or religious orders to assist a claimant to identify the correct defendant to respond to legal proceedings.

The CEO of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, said the community expects the Catholic Church to have a compassionate and consistent approach towards survivors of child sexual abuse, including when they take legal action.

“These guidelines provide a framework for Church authorities to do the right thing in court and ease the trauma of litigation for survivors,” he said.

The guidelines also cover issues such as:
• providing records, making an early assessment of claims, keeping costs down and paying legitimate claims without litigation
• being mindful of the traumatic experience for claimants during litigation and endeavouring to avoid legal proceedings wherever possible
• apologising if the Church authority is aware that it or its representatives or lawyers have acted wrongfully, improperly or in breach of the guidelines.

“While going to court and litigating a claim must always be an option for child sexual abuse victims a national redress scheme must also be available,” Mr Sullivan said.

“There will be many survivors of child sexual abuse who will not want to go to court.

“They must have access to a fair, independent, affordable and timely redress scheme that recognises their abuse and ensures the organisation responsible pays compensation and meets the cost of counselling and ongoing care.”

The guidelines are similar to the models adopted by many governments in Australia and gives effect to a recommendation of the Royal Commission in its September Redress and Civil Litigation Report. The guidelines will apply to all current and future cases.

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