Church’s legal defence ‘dismantled’
A victim of sexual abuse who signed away his rights to sue the Catholic Church has had the settlement overturned in a landmark Supreme Court judgment, paving the way for hundreds of other survivors to seek compensation.The man, known as WCB, was paid $32,500 in 1996 in exchange for his silence after he was repeatedly sexually abused as an altar boy by Warragul priest Daniel Hourigan.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned the deed of release, removing the legal barriers for WCB to sue the Catholic Church for damages.
Justice Andrew Keogh described the abuse as “horrendous” and said the evidence supported a “significant assessment of damages” for WCB.
“The settlement sum represents very modest and heavily discounted compensation for the loss and damage suffered by the plaintiff as a consequence of the abuse,” he said.
Last year, the state government passed a law allowing courts to set aside a past deed of release or court judgment relating to child abuse.
It is estimated that more than 500 victims signed similar deeds of release, often for small financial payouts, under the Catholic Church’s controversial “Melbourne Response”.
Former Melbourne archbishop George Pell, who was convicted in 2018 of sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s, was the architect of the Melbourne Response program.