VICTORIA’S largest ever child sex abuse group action will be launched today against the whole of the Diocese of Sale, comprising 19 parishes, and stretching from the Victorian eastern border through to Cranbourne and the Berwick region.
The diocese, named in the recent Royal Commission report as having the highest percentage of alleged paedophile priests in Australia, already has two other major ongoing child sex abuse group actions underway.
These legal actions, against St Patrick’s College/Catholic College Sale (led by Shine Lawyers) and St Paul’s/Lavalla in Traralgon (led by Rightside Legal) have bought forward more than 46 new alleged victims since March this year.
All of the actions involve historical child abuse allegations, many of which occurred in the 1970s.
The appointment of lawyers for this latest action is currently being finalised.
Child sex abuse victim ‘Michael’, the organiser and co-ordinator of these multiple group actions, said the new diocese group action was in response to new victims who had recently come forward, who were allegedly abused in Catholic primary schools, churches and other locations by Catholic priests and brothers.
He said some of the victims had been young altar boys when they were abused, and their stories were “just so heartbreaking”.
“I myself was molested and bashed up by a boarding school dorm master, and then later went to the local priest for help and protection,” Michael alleged.
“Shockingly, he abusively and shamelessly turned me away, protecting his paedophile mate.
“It just totally destroys you as a child.”
Victoria recently passed new laws to plug a loophole to prevent unincorporated organisations from relying upon a legal technicality — known as the ‘Ellis defence’ — to avoid civil lawsuits.
This includes religious organisations.
Michael said while he encouraged sick and elderly victims to use the new National Redress Program, he said the maximum compensation payout of $150,000 was significantly and substantially below what victims could expect to receive from being involved with one of the group actions, which could run into millions of dollars.
In March, a former St Patrick’s College, Sale, Marist Brother and teacher pleaded guilty during a committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to abusing five boys when he was a principal and sports master of St Paul’s Catholic College in Traralgon in the 1970s.
His guilty pleas followed child sexual assault convictions against a former St Patrick’s College Sale lay teacher and a brother.
Another brother is yet to face court in February next year over 99 sexual offences against multiple alleged child victims.
He denies the charges.
Other allegations have been made against another Sale brother and a priest, both now deceased.
Catholic Bishop of Sale, Bishop Pat O’Regan, has urged complainants’ legal representatives to make direct contact with the diocese so claims could be addressed within the proper framework.
He said the diocese had in place a range of protocols to assist victims of abuse to make complaints, including contacting the diocese’s Professional Standards Office and the Towards Healing process established by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“We maintain strict confidentiality of each victim and will not engage in the public forum,” he said.
Michael encouraged victims to make any enquiries via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
People with information about child sexual abuse in an institutional context can also email the SANO Task Force email@example.com or phone the SANO Task Force on 1800 110 007. To report a child at immediate risk or danger, phone 000 or a local police station.
Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN) is a not-for-profit organisation working to increase public awareness of the effects that childhood sexual abuse can have on men in their adult lives. For more information about SAMSN, visit www.samsn.org.au, which also has links to other related organisations.
Lifeline (phone 13 11 14) and Beyondblue (1300 22 4636) also offer support.