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Abuse response ‘insufficient’

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The Catholic Church’s response to allegations of child sex abuse was insufficient in the 1990s, Cardinal George Pell will tell the child abuse royal commission.

Cardinal Pell, who was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s, will give evidence via video link from the Vatican on Thursday.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness said Cardinal Pell was installed as archbishop on August 16, 1996.

“Cardinal Pell will give evidence that at that time it was his view that arrangements within the archdiocese for responding to and assisting victims of child sexual abuse were insufficient to ensure a compassionate, effective and consistent response,” Ms Furness told the commission on Monday.

Cardinal Pell introduced the Melbourne Response in October 1996 to handle allegations about pedophile priests.

The royal commission will examine the effectiveness of the Melbourne Response in its two weeks of public hearings in Melbourne.

It will hear the head of a service set up by the Catholic Church in Melbourne to arrange support for victims of abuse by priests gave expert evidence on behalf of a priest jailed for child sex abuse.

Christine Foster, whose daughters were sexually abused by Father Kevin O’Donnell, will give evidence she and her husband Anthony Foster were unhappy Professor Richard Ball appeared at O’Donnell’s sentence hearing after he pleaded guilty to 12 counts of indecent assault in 1995.

O’Donnell was found by the Melbourne Response’s independent commissioner Peter O’Callaghan to have abused two of the Fosters’ daughters.

“Mrs Foster will give evidence that she and Mr Foster raised repeated objections to the role of Professor Ball in Carelink as Professor Ball had given expert evidence on behalf of O’Donnell in his sentencing hearing,” Ms Furness said.

Prof Ball was appointed the support professional responsible for the treatment, counselling and support for victims at Carelink, the Melbourne archdiocese-funded service established under the Melbourne Response. He later became the director of Carelink.

The commission will also hear victims of pedophile priests felt discouraged from going to the police after meeting with the Melbourne Response commissioner.

Victim Paul Hersbach will give evidence he was told there “would not appear to be much point” going to the police.

Another man was told the commissioner would not be able to investigate his claims while a police investigation was underway.

Ms Furness said in her opening address the man felt discouraged from going to police.

He later reported the matter to police. The priest, Father Michael Glennon, died in prison waiting for trial.

Ms Furness said the Melbourne Response’s commissioner Peter O’Callaghan would give evidence he did not mean to discourage the man from going to the police.

Child sex abuse by priests cost the Catholic Church in Melbourne more than $34 million, the royal commission heard.

It paid more than $17.25 million in compensation and medical, counselling and treatment through its Melbourne Response.

The cost of administering the scheme was also about $17 million.

The Melbourne Response upheld 326 of 351 abuse complaints made between October 1996 and March 31, 2014.

Seventy-seven people were named as the subject of one or more of the upheld complaints.

Almost one fifth of the compensation payments by the church before March 31 were paid in relation to O’Donnell, who was the subject of 50 complaints.

Glennon was the subject of 23 complaints, 21 of which were upheld.