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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Church admits hush payments
Sydney Archbishop George Pell
Archbishop George Pell had denied a cover-up
In a stark reversal of its previous statements, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia has admitted that secrecy clauses were included in compensation payments to sexual abuse victims.


There is what is called a standard non-disclosure clause in damages settlements and these clauses seem to be completely at variance with what Church leaders... believed what was happening

QC John McCarthy
The admission was made by leading Sydney lawyer QC John McCarthy on behalf of the Church.

Mr McCarthy stressed, however, that Australia's bishops appeared to be unaware of the clauses, which effectively rendered any compensation as 'hush money'.

Sydney Archbishop George Pell, who has himself been accused of paying abuse victims to keep quiet, has repeatedly denied a cover-up by the Church.

'Standard' clause

Mr McCarthy defended the Church after the Sun-Herald printed details of a secrecy clause on Sunday which a disabled woman said she had been forced to sign, after receiving compensation for her rape by a priest.

The lawyer said the clause was standard in damages settlements, and it was unlikely it would have been brought to the attention of Church leaders.

"There is what is called a standard non-disclosure clause in damages settlements and these clauses seem to be completely at variance with what Church leaders, including Archbishop Pell, believed what was happening," Mr McCarthy told Australian television.

He said this was at variance with the Church's own protocol under its "Towards Healing" care programme for sex abuse victims, which reads:

"No complainant should be required to give an undertaking which imposes upon them an obligation to silence."

Review

Archbishop Pell said he would be seeking a review of the payments scheme.

Sydney Archbishop George Pell
Archbishop Pell says the compensation scheme will be reviewed

"Obviously, it is clear that further work needs to be done by dioceses and orders to co-ordinate the form of compensation payments and prevent them being misunderstood as hush money," he said.

Mr McCarthy said he believed the number of those victims affected by the secrecy clause was in "significant double figures, not hundreds".

But Broken Rites, a victim support group, told AFP news agency it suspected in excess of 1,000 victims could be affected.

The group is critical of the Church policy, arguing that archbishops should be encouraging victims to go to the police, rather than the Church.

Apology

The revelations come only days after Archbishop Pell and another Australian prelate, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, apologised for the "evil of sexual abuse" carried out by priests in their clergy.

In a written apology released late on Thursday, they insisted the Church never tried to silence victims and said they wanted to work "towards healing".

Archbishop Pell has already denied trying to cover up sex abuse cases in the 1990s.

He has admitted offering victims of abuse thousands of dollars in compensation but insisted the money was not "hush money" intended to silence them.

See also:

06 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
18 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 May 01 | Country profiles
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