News National Melbourne Catholic abuse compensation to top $31m

Melbourne Catholic abuse compensation to top $31m

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The Catholic Church expects its compensation payments to child sex abuse victims in the Melbourne archdiocese to surpass $31 million after it doubled the maximum available payout.

The compensation cap under the church’s Melbourne Response scheme will rise from $75,000 to $150,000, putting it in line with the maximum payment under the federal government’s planned Commonwealth redress scheme.

Survivors who have already received compensation through the Melbourne Response, set up in 1996 by then Melbourne archbishop Cardinal George Pell, can have their cases reviewed to determine if they can receive additional payments.

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said the archdiocese had paid about $15 million in compensation under the scheme and expected that figure to rise to $31.7 million under the new system.

He said the Melbourne archdiocese wanted to align any change in compensation with government schemes to ensure survivors had equal access and treatment.

“We’ve been talking to government for quite some time and now that the Commonwealth government’s come out with the same figure, we believe that’s fairer to everyone in the community to have the same basic scheme and the same cap,” he said.

“It’s a doubling of what we had before and that’s a recognition of the terrible suffering that victims have undergone and we felt that it was a reasonable understanding in the community that this was an appropriate figure.”

The caps under the Commonwealth redress scheme operating from 2018 and the Melbourne Response from January 2017 fall short of the $200,000 maximum payment recommended by the child sex abuse royal commission for a national redress system.

However, Archbishop Hart said the average payment under the new Melbourne Response was expected to be about $89,000, which compared favourably with the $65,000 average figure envisaged by the royal commission.

“We’ve reached a significant stage where for the first time people in the community are talking to each other – churches and institutions and governments – so that we can reach out to people who have suffered terribly and provide a level playing field where people who have suffered can be helped.”

The average compensation paid under the Melbourne Response has been $52,000.

The royal commission found the Catholic Church’s national Towards Healing scheme, brought in shortly after the Melbourne Response, has resulted in more generous payments to survivors as it did not cap the financial payment.

It also said the Melbourne Response is overly legalistic, while critics also say it has re-traumatised victims.

Archbishop Hart said survivors wanting a review of their compensation only had to fill out an application form, rather than go through the process again, and counselling would continue to be available via CareLink.

“We don’t want to traumatise people,” he said.

The changes follow a review by retired Federal Court judge Donnell Ryan QC, who recommended doubling the cap and reopening previous cases if the survivor would have received a higher offer had the new arrangements been in force at the time their case was heard.