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'Tyranny of distance' led to silence clause

Confusion in the Catholic Church over confidentiality clauses in compensation agreements with abuse victims appeared to be the result of "tyranny of distance problems", according to Catholic barrister John McCarthy QC.

Mr McCarthy confirmed that in some parts of the country the church had required victims to keep silent about their claims as a condition of a payment.

This was at odds with a national church policy and reassurances given by Sydney Archbishop George Pell, who has said that he cannot speak for bishops outside Sydney.

Mr McCarthy said "all sorts of problems" could occur in an institution the size of the church.

"You're talking about the second-largest organisation after the commonwealth government," he told The Australian yesterday.

The lines of communication between those dealing with sexual abuse claims in the archdioceses, dioceses and religious orders were stretched across the country.

The church seemed to be having "the usual Geoffrey Blainey tyranny of distance problems", he said.

Mr McCarthy, president of the St Thomas More Society of Catholic lawyers, said concern about the conflict between the national policy and victims' accounts of enforced secrecy had prompted him to make inquiries and a statement.

He said lawyers appeared to be behind the non-disclosure clauses used in some dioceses - such as in rural NSW.

These clauses were standard features of settlements in the secular world, but the church's 2000 national policy, Towards Healing, disavowed them.

Mr McCarthy said he did not know in detail how these clauses came to be used or how widespread they were.

Towards Healing - Principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against personnel of the Catholic Church of Australia
St Thomas More Society
Church fails its own sex abuse rules (SMH)
Pell's past a cause of church's inept response to abuse (SMH)
Silence perpetuates suffering of church's victims (SMH)
Church lawyers not told of ban (Age)
Church needs the law of man (Age)
Church 'not aware of clauses' (AAP)
Church investigates 'hush money' (Daily Telegraph)

The Australian

11 Jun 2002