Adelaide moves to settle orphanage abuse cases

A lawyer for alleged abuse victims has cautiously welcomed changes proposed by the Adelaide archdiocese as the Church moves to settle dozens of complaints for physical and sexual abuse by former residents at an orphanage.

In what the Adelaide Sunday Mail describes as a major development in the long running issue, the Archdiocese of Adelaide and the Sisters of Mercy, the Irish order of nuns which ran the orphanage, have set up a formal program to deal with the complaints and resultant compensation claims.

The program is aimed at avoiding costly, drawn-out court action with abuse victims; and is modelled on similar, successful "restorative justice" programs in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Under the program the Archdiocese is inviting former residents to lodge complaints about their treatment at the orphanage which may have included physical and sexual abuse, hardship and deprivation.

The Archdiocese's Chancellor Jane Swift said each complaint would be assessed individually and the church response may include a range of services and support, financial compensation and an invitation for a pastoral meeting with Church representatives.

It was expected there would be "no more than 40 or 50" individual cases relating to orphanage ex-residents.

Most were expected to be instances of physical abuse and deprivation. Only one case so far involves alleged sexual abuse.

"The Sisters of Mercy were committed to providing the children with as good an upbringing as was feasible within their physical, financial and spiritual capacities," Chancellor Swift told the Sunday Mail.

"I know of so many Sisters who worked tirelessly and caringly for their charges and formed lifelong friendships.

"However, there is no doubt that institutional life could never take the place of a caring family environment and, tragically, we know that abuses have occurred.

"The Church has a moral and civil obligation to do what it can to redress any abuse.

"I hope this program will be received in the spirit in which it is offered to the former residents."

A telephone helpline - 1800 139 020 - has been established for former residents to call to seek information.

The Sisters of Mercy ran Goodwood orphanage from 1890 until it closed in 1975.

Residents included orphans, British child migrants from England during and following World War II, and children placed in institutional care because of family hardship.

Numerous former residents have contacted the Catholic Church since evidence of the abuse was tabled in the British House of Commons in 1997.

ABC News adds that lawyer Peter Humphries, who acts for a group of alleged victims, says he is pleased with the proposal, but wants to negotiate some changes.

"Both explanation of some aspects of the scheme, I have a couple of questions to make sure that I clearly understand what it is that's being proposed in a couple of areas," he said.

Orphanage compo vow (Adelaide Now, 13/11/06)
Lawyer welcomes church's plan for handling abuse claims (ABC News, 12/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bridget's Story
Abuse at Goodwood Orphanage, Adelaide, South Australia 1950s (Networked Knowledge)

Mary's Story
Abuse at Goodwood Orphanage, Adelaide, South Australia 1950s (Networked Knowledge)

Adelaide Archdiocese
Mercy Sisters Australia

Archbishop to respond to Goodwood orphanage abuse (CathNews, 23/9/04)

Ireland nuns apologise for abuse (BBC News, 6/5/04)

13 Nov 2006