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Abuse victims claim silence clauses remain

Victims of church sex abuse are still fighting to have silencing clauses removed from their compensation agreements in spite of Church assurances earlier this year that victims were free to talk publicly about their experiences.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a woman awarded compensation after suffering abuse by a nun in a Grafton religious order says the church has yet to fully lift the confidentiality clause on her deed of release, despite public assurances in June that silencing clauses were the result of innocent error.

Sydney's Archbishop George Pell made it clear in a television interview that compensation paid to victims of clergy sex abuse is not "hush money".

The paper says the Lismore woman has since received a new deed of release, but instead of the diocese removing the confidentiality clause, it has simply been reworded.

The document states she must not reveal the details of her case, including which diocese the abuse took place and which religious order perpetrated it.

Since December 2000 the church's sex abuse protocol, Towards Healing, has expressly banned clauses in compensation documents which prevent victims from talking publicly about their abuse.

Sr Angela Ryan, national executive of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's professional standards committee, said confidentiality requirements such as those imposed on the Lismore woman do not amount to silencing clauses.

"She has been given the freedom to talk about what happened, as long as she doesn't reveal where the abuse took place and by who."

Commenting on another case, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said it is church lawyers, not church leaders, who are still having difficulties accepting that confidentiality clauses are not to be included in deeds of release.

Sydney Morning Herald

Towards Healing (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)

23 Dec 2002