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Australia's Ballarat diocese accused of breaking Church sex abuse guidelines by challenging compensation claim

10 August 2017 | by Mark Brolly

The Diocese is alleged to be denying the circumstances of the victim's abuse, despite fact it was accepted by the Court three years ago

The Diocese of Ballarat, one of the Catholic bodies most scrutinised by Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has been accused of breaking the Church’s guidelines in resisting a compensation claim by a victim of laicised priest Gerald Ridsdale.

The guidelines state a claimant cannot be required to prove the elements of an abuse case that the Church authority had already accepted to be true.

But lawyer Paula Shelton said the Diocese was challenging parts of her client's claim that were accepted by a court when Ridsdale was convicted of the abuse. Her client was seven years old when sexually abused by Ridsdale, who is now in jail, in 1980.

She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 6 August that the Diocese was now denying the circumstances of his abuse, despite the fact they were accepted by the Victorian County Court when Ridsdale was sentenced three years ago.

"What is very irritating and irking to our clients is that we have these bishops who show up ... at the Royal Commission and say they're going to treat these plaintiffs compassionately and this is what we get," Ms Shelton said.

Her client, called "John", said: "I'm tired dealing with an organisation that seems to have no moral compass."

Ballarat's Bishop Paul Bird, in a statement to the ABC, rejected suggestions his diocese was not following the church guidelines, which were drawn up by the Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council.

"If we are not able to resolve the claim through alternative dispute resolution and the claimant begins litigation, we seek to cooperate fully as indicated in the TJHC guidelines," Bishop Bird said. "For example, we do not require a claimant to prove a matter which we know to be true or have accepted as true."

In his civil claim, "John" said two former bishops of Ballarat who oversaw Ridsdale, Sir James O'Collins (1941-71) and Ronald Mulkearns (1971-97), failed to take reasonable steps to ensure his safety, instead moving Ridsdale from parish to parish.

Meanwhile, legislation to establish a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse is due to be debated by Federal Parliament in the next few weeks. The scheme will allow states, territories and non-government institutions - including the Catholic Church, which has committed to the scheme - to join on a "'responsible entity pays" basis and has been a key recommendation of the Royal Commission.

Subject to the passage of the legislation, the scheme is due to begin operations in 2018.

PICTURE: A group of survivors of child sex abuse in the Victorian town of Ballarat display a placard in Rome on Tuesday, 1 March, 2016 to show support for abuse victims worldwide



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