Church assurance for abuse victims

The Catholic Church has moved to assure victims of sexual abuse their legal fees will continue to be paid following confusion created by a new policy document.

The Adelaide Sunday Mail reported that the Archdiocese of Adelaide's Director of Professional Standards Sue Cain said there would be no change to the existing system under which cases were assessed individually and all legal fees paid "in many cases".

This was despite a revised Towards Healing principles and procedures guidelines document provided to lawyers representing abuse victims stating otherwise.

The document says "as support persons are not remunerated for their role in the process, no legal fees are payable to support persons who are legal practitioners".

This statement has never been made in any previous policy documents for the Towards Healing program.

The revised document sparked uproar from abuse victims and lawyers, who say it signals a change in church policy on paying legal fees.

Ms Cain said she believed the confusion had arisen because the previous policy documents did not outline this.

"There has been some confusion interstate, that's why it has been included," she said. "There wasn't that guideline before. It hasn't changed, it's been provided for clarity."

Lawyer Susan Litchfield said yesterday if the policy had changed it would have placed victims at a disadvantage and it appeared the church was trying to get victims to sign away their rights without the benefit of legal advice.

Fees fear in abuse cases (Sunday Mail 29/1/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Towards Healing (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)

Church accused over abuse claims (CathNews 27/1/06)

30 Jan 2006