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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Record award for Church abuse victims
Pope John Paul II
The Pope has denounced "evil" paedophiles
An Australian Roman Catholic order has agreed to pay 3.64m Australian dollars ($2.1m) in compensation to 24 mentally handicapped men who were sexually abused while in its care.

The out-of-court settlement far exceeds previous compensation awards made by the Catholic Church or religious orders in Australia in sex abuse cases.

My parents thought they were doing the right thing when they placed my brother in the care of the order - we didn't know he would be at the mercy of some paedophiles

Relative of one victim

A statement from the St John of God Brothers said: "The order acknowledges that some of the residents under its care were sexually abused by some brothers."

The disabled men, who were only teenagers at the time, were abused by up to 20 brothers in three Melbourne institutions run by the order over the past 30 years, a spokesman for the order said.

Many of the brothers are now dead. Several had been asked to leave the order or had left voluntarily, Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

'Breach of trust'

St John of God has settled some previous claims alleging sexual abuse, but the amounts paid were much smaller.

I believe we are dealing with a firestorm that, unless it's brought under control and dealt with, is going to be really destructive

Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide

The victims' lawyer, Peter Gordon, said individual compensation payments ranged from A$50,000 to A$400,000.

"Clearly the damage these people have suffered is significant and represents a breach of trust," he said.

Australia's Catholic Church has recently admitted that secrecy clauses were included in compensation payments to sexual abuse victims.

But John McCarthy, a lawyer for the Church, said Australia's bishops appeared to be unaware of the clauses, which effectively rendered any compensation as "hush money".

Archbishop's warning

The Church has confirmed that since 1996 it has paid A$3m in compensation to 101 sexual abuse victims in Victoria state alone.

Adelaide's Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson will address the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called to discuss the child sex abuse scandal rocking the American Church.

The conference opens in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday.

In April, Archbishop Wilson described the scandal as a "firestorm" which could inflict "perhaps the greatest ever destruction of the Church in western civilisation".

See also:

12 Jun 02 | Americas
10 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
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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