Report into the Melbourne Response released

14 September 2015

The Royal Commission’s Report of Case Study 16 – the Melbourne Response, was released today.

The Melbourne Response is the Archdiocese of Melbourne’s process for responding to those who have been sexually abused by priests, religious and lay persons within the Archdiocese of Melbourne. It was announced by the then Archbishop Pell in 1996.

The report of Case Study 16 follows a public hearing into the Melbourne Response held in August last year.

At the public hearing the Royal Commission heard evidence from a number of people with direct experience of the Melbourne Response including Christine and Anthony Foster, whose daughters Emma and Katie were sexually abused at the Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School in Oakleigh. The Fosters gave evidence of their experience with the Melbourne Response from 1997 and the approach taken by the Archdiocese to legal proceedings the Fosters instituted after becoming dissatisfied with the Melbourne Response.

The Royal Commission also heard evidence from Mr Hersbach and Mr AFA who went through the Melbourne Response in 2006 and 2011 respectively.

Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Hart gave evidence that the three components of the Melbourne Response – the Independent Commissioners, Carelink and the Compensation Panel – operate independently of the Archdiocese and each other.

The Royal Commissioners found that the Melbourne Response is not sufficiently independent of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in its operation and each element is not necessarily independent of the others.

The legal advisers to the Archdiocese also provided services to the Independent Commissioner, Carelink and the Compensation panel. Documents created as part of the Melbourne Response were held by the lawyers who acted for the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The Commissioners state in the report that this raises a clear potential for conflict and difficulties with confidentiality.

The Commissioners are satisfied that Mr O’Callaghan QC, one of the Independent Commissioners of the Melbourne Response, provided advice about the police process to Mr Paul Hersbach and Mr AFA that discouraged them from going to the police.

The Commissioners expressed the view that advice on the approach that the police might take to any prosecution, and the likely outcome, should be left to the police.

Cardinal Pell told the Royal Commission that while he was developing the Melbourne Response, he was aware that work was also being undertaken through the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the National Committee for Professional Standards to develop Towards Healing – a national response.

Cardinal Pell accepted that introducing the Melbourne Response when he did had the effect that Towards Healing, which was approved a few weeks later, was not a national response.

The report states that a consequence of this is that like complaints may not be treated in a like manner and consistency of outcome may not be achieved. For example, there was no stated cap of the amounts which might be provided under Towards Healing while the Melbourne Response had a stated initial cap of $50,000.

This case study raised a number of systemic issues in particular the role of the institution in a redress scheme. The Royal Commission’s report on Redress and Civil Litigation was also released today.

Read the full report.

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