The federal government should set up an independent body to assess what damages should be paid to child sex abuse victims and priests should be insured against being sued for sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell has told the royal commission on child sexual abuse.
The Church's Towards Healing protocol for dealing with sex abuse victims failed to meet the church's moral responsibility towards victims, and so did the Melbourne Response he set up, Cardinal Pell admitted under questioning from the royal commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan.
The Cardinal expressed concern the church was held to a higher standard of accountability for sex abuse than other institutions or individuals, such as sporting groups and Scouts. He said there were ‘‘exact parallels’’ with sporting groups, rugby league clubs, the Scouts and other institutions. ''We have a right to be treated just like any other Australian community,'' he said.
Cardinal Pell, whose evidence will continue on Wednesday, admitted to multiple failings in handling the case of John Ellis who was a 13-year-old altar boy when Father Aidan Duggan of Bass Hill parish began sexually abusing him. But he said those closest to him - the archdiocesan chancellor, his private secretary and the director of the Office of Professional Standards which handled Towards Healing complaints - erred in saying he was consulted on reparations payments to be made to victims under Towards Healing.
The evidence is that Mr Ellis said in 2004 he would settle for $100,000 but this offer was rejected. The Church counter offered with $25,000, increased to $30,000 after the ‘‘brilliant’’ lawyer Mr Ellis lost his job as a partner with leading law firm Baker & McKenzie. In the end the Church spent $1.5million on the case.
Cardinal Pell admitted in his statement to the commission he ''explicitly endorsed the major strategies of the defence'' in the litigation which on the evidence left Mr Ellis a broken man. But his statement says he had not been aware his lawyers told the court Mr Ellis had no one to sue other than the archdiocesan trustees or himself, which was the basis of the now infamous ''Ellis defence''.
Cardinal Pell said the amounts offered by the church to Mr Ellis were ''grotesque'' and ''inappropriate'' and he made a ''mistake'' in not making Mr Ellis a counter offer to Mr Ellis' later $750,000 settlement offer.
He insisted he had not known about Mr Ellis' $100,000 offer, which would have been an ''excellent outcome'' with hindsight.
Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness, SC, put it to Cardinal Pell it was ''inconceivable'' for him not to be involved in the decision to reject the $100,000, when on his evidence he had been closely involved in almost every significant step in handling the case up until then.
''It is not a question of what is conceivable or logical or possible. The fact is that I was not informed about any of this,'' he said.
Justice McClellan asked him whether his concern for victims ''didn't extend to knowing whether monetary compensation [was] … adequate to victims' needs?'' He said he was ''not a micromanager'' and trusted others to do their jobs. But he later said he appointed the man who should have told him about the $100,000, Vicar-General Monsignor Brian Rayner, to a role which was ''completely beyond him''.
He also blamed John Davoren, director of the church's Professional Standards Office, for inaccurately assessing Mr Ellis' case.
Mr Davoren was a ‘‘muddler’’, he said. But he agreed he made no attempt to remove him from his position.Cardinal Pell earlier gave evidence that in the 1990s that the attitude of some people in the Vatican was that accusations against priests ‘‘were being made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble’’.
The Prime Minister's office did not respond to calls regarding the establishment of an independent body to assess victims' damages.