Photo: The royal commission into the handling of child sexual abuse has found Cardinal George Pell did not act in a Christian manner during a court battle against John Ellis. (AAP: Paul Miller)
Cardinal George Pell and the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese repeatedly failed in their dealings with abuse victim John Ellis, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found.
Early last year, the commission examined the treatment of Mr Ellis, a Sydney lawyer and former altar boy who, as a teenager, was abused by Father Aidan Duggan between 1974 and 1979.
Mr Ellis later spent more than a decade seeking compensation but lost the case on a technicality in 2007 when the Court of Appeal ruled the Catholic Church was not an entity that could be sued.
He had asked for $100,000 after he first came forward with a complaint through the church’s Towards Healing pastoral and redress scheme in 2002, but was offered $30,000, a sum Cardinal Pell later described as “grotesque”.
The commission heard that the church spent more than $1 million over 12 years fighting Mr Ellis’s claim, denying in court that the abuse had happened and threatening him with court costs for several years.
The Archdiocese failed to conduct the litigation with Mr Ellis in a manner that adequately took account of his pastoral and other needs as a victim of sexual abuse.Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Sydney at the time of Mr Ellis’s legal battle and later apologised to him, admitting the church failed in its moral and pastoral responsibilities and, “from a Christian point of view”, did not act fairly.
On Wednesday, the commission handed down 34 findings into the case, including that the church repeatedly failed Mr Ellis in its internal handling of his complaint and during the litigation process.
“The Archdiocese failed to conduct the litigation with Mr Ellis in a manner that adequately took account of his pastoral and other needs as a victim of sexual abuse,” the commission’s report stated.
Most damningly, the report’s authors agreed with Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he, the Archdiocese and the Church Trustees “did not act fairly from a Christian point of view in the conduct of the litigation against Mr Ellis”.
Photo: John Ellis sued the Church after he was abused by a priest in the 1970s, but lost the case on a technicality. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
The commission found the church’s former director of professional standards for NSW and ACT, John Davoren, did not comply with the church’s own Towards Healing internal investigation procedures and “did not make a compassionate response his first priority”.
The commission’s report also outlined how the church initially acknowledged Mr Ellis had been abused but went on to “vigorously defend” itself, including denying the abuse had occured and forcing Mr Ellis into days of upsetting cross-examination.
The church also failed to disclose that a witness to Mr Ellis’ abuse and another victim of Father Duggan had come forward during the litigation process.
The commission found the church did not tell Mr Ellis it had decided not to pursue him for legal costs of more than $500,000 for more than a year after that decision was made, a length of time that had an adverse effect on his health.
CARDINAL George Pell followed legal advice to vigorously fight a child sexual abuse victim’s legal claim against the Catholic Church to discourage other victims from pursuing the church in court, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found.
The Sydney Archdiocese ‘‘fundamentally failed’’ Sydney solicitor and victim John Ellis when he sought assistance from the church through its Towards Healing process, leading to the legal action, the commission found.
Mr Ellis has acted for Hunter child sexual abuse victims in cases against Maitland-Newcastle diocese, including total payments for victims of sadistic paedophile priest John Denham estimated at nearly $10 million.
In findings released on Wednesday, after a public hearing last year into the church’s handling of Mr Ellis’s case, the royal commission found Sydney Archdiocese wrongly concluded that it had never accepted Mr Ellis was sexually abused by a priest. The commission heard evidence that the archdiocese had accepted the abuse occurred.
But the false conclusion allowed Cardinal Pell to instruct the archdiocese’s lawyers to strongly defend the case, including extensive cross examination of Mr Ellis in court on the basis that the abuse had not occurred.
‘‘The Royal Commission agrees with Cardinal Pell’s evidence that the Archdiocese, the Trustees and he as Archbishop, did not act fairly from a Christian point of view in the conduct of the litigation against Mr Ellis,’’ the commission found.
It also found the archdiocese had significantly underestimated the value of its financial holdings.
Sex abuse inquiry finds George Pell put church finances before victims
February 12, 2015 12:00AM
The royal commission reported yesterday on three case studies, including that of solicitor John Ellis, who it found was denied justice and compassion by the Archdiocese of Sydney, which vigorously defended his compensation claim despite its own assessor’s conclusion he was telling the truth.
Mr Ellis was sexually assaulted by Father Aidan Duggan for five years between 1974 and 1979, when he was an altar boy. The abuse began when Mr Ellis was 13 years old. When he finally disclosed the abuse and, in 2002, took part in the church’s Towards Healingprocess, set up to offer pastoral care and reparation to victims, the church fundamentally failed to comply with the principles of its own policy.
Cardinal Pell initially dismissed Mr Ellis’s complaint, saying: “I do not see that there is anything the archdiocese can do.”
Negotiations between Mr Ellis, who continued to push for justice, and the archdiocese subsequently collapsed after Mr Ellis, a former partner at a Sydney law firm, was offered $25,000 by the church.
The royal commission agreed yesterday that Cardinal Pell had failed to act fairly from a Christian point of view during the course of litigation launched by Mr Ellis, which ultimately failed. Solicitors for the archdiocese and Cardinal Pell disputed that Father Duggan had sexually abused Mr Ellis.
The royal commission’s report concluded “the Archdiocese contrived an outcome that would allow them to maintain the non-admission of Mr Ellis’s abuse”.
“The archdiocese accepted the advice of its lawyers to vigorously defend Mr Ellis’s claim,” it said. “One reason Cardinal Pell decided to accept this advice was to encourage other prospective plaintiffs not to litigate claims of child sexual abuse against the church.” Cardinal Pell, now based in Rome as the Vatican’s Economy Minister, in evidence to the royal commission in March last year admitted the church had not dealt fairly with Mr Ellis. He said in his evidence he regretted the way the litigation was handled and had been motivated by a desire to protect the church’s trustees, who control its wealth. Cardinal Pell ultimately apologised to Mr Ellis during the hearings.
The church did not pursue Mr Ellis for costs of more than $500 million after the litigation.
The royal commission also handed down a report yesterday that examined how the Towards Healing protocol responded to four other cases, including that of Joan Isaacs, who was sexually abused by Brisbane priest Francis Edward Derriman in the late 1960s.
The commissioners found Ms Isaacs was required “not to make disparaging remarks or comments” about the church authority as part of a settlement process, inconsistent with church principles.
The case of a Toowoomba school whose principal, Terence Hayes, in 2007 failed to pass on to police allegations of sexual abuse against a teacher, Gerard Vincent Byrnes, serving 10 years for abusing 13 girls, was also reported on.
The Catholic Church’s professional standards arm said it was carefully examining the reports.