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Church prepared for more sex abuse claims

In response to predictions that 2003 may be the worst yet for allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy, a spokeswoman for Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said the archdiocese is willing to confront the past and to deal with sexual abuse claims.

"The Archdiocese of Melbourne will take full responsibility for compensating victims of sexual abuse as set out in our independent process," she said. "It is highly unlikely that the Archdiocese of Melbourne will go bankrupt."

Speaking to The Age after the Australian Institute for Family Studies conference in Melbourne, Dr Tom Altobelli, associate professor of law at the University of Western Sydney, sposaid later that it was possible the Catholic Church could be bankrupted by compensation claims in some states.

Towards Healing, the church's guidelines in all Australian dioceses but Melbourne for dealing with sex abuse claims, is an excellent model with far more strengths than weaknesses, he said. But its stress on confidentiality needs to be balanced with transparency and accountability.

Dr Altobelli told the conference that he predicted 2003 would be another big year for claims from allegations of sexual abuse. "In fact, 2003 may turn out to be the worst year yet for these claims, even making the Hollingworth and Pell sagas look rather innocuous," he said.

Factors behind his prediction included public cynicism and disappointment with institutional processes, an unwillingness among individuals to let the past lie, a greater willingness among some institutions to confront their past, and a growing realisation that the costs of abuse were borne by the public or the victim unless the cost of treatment was accepted by those responsible.

Also, existing processes were not working. "A reflection on the media activity during and after the Hollingworth and Pell stories demonstrates that no one was satisfied with the outcomes," Dr Altobelli said.

The Age

Australian Institute for Family Studies | Conference | Institutional Processes for Dealing with Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse (Altobelli paper abstract - PDF)
University of Western Sydney: Tom Altobelli
Towards Healing

14 Feb 2003