Wollongong sex abuse victims paid $500,000 by Catholic Church

Counting the costs: Four alleged victims from Wollongong diocese were given compensation, totalling $430,000 or about $107,000 each. All payments – including compensation, treatment, legal and other costs – totalled $511,000.
Counting the costs: Four alleged victims from Wollongong diocese were given compensation, totalling $430,000 or about $107,000 each. All payments – including compensation, treatment, legal and other costs – totalled $511,000.

Just over $500,000 has been paid to Wollongong victims of alleged child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, new data from the royal commission has revealed.

This makes up a tiny proportion (0.18 per cent) of the $280 million paid out by the church over the past 35 years, and puts the Diocese of Wollongong among the 15 Catholic authorities with the lowest average payments to victims.

In contrast, the diocese was last week named as one of the five areas with the highest proportion of priests alleged to be perpetrators.

Claims data released this week by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse shows 33 people made claim of child sexual abuse in the Wollongong diocese.

Of these, a third (11 people) received some type of “redress”, including treatment, legal and other costs.

Four alleged victims were given compensation, totalling $430,000 or about $107,000 each. All payments – including compensation, treatment, legal and other costs – totalled $511,000.

The commission put the average Wollongong payment at $46,000, compared to a national average amount of financial compensation of $91,000.

Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC told the hearing that the real number of children abused was likely to be higher than the data showed.

"The total number of incidences of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church institutions in Australia is likely to be greater than the claims made," she said.

The average age of victims when the abuse occurred was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. Picture: iStock

The average age of victims when the abuse occurred was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. Picture: iStock

Aside from showing how much the church has paid out since the 1980, the latest release of data reveals a clearer picture than ever about the children who were abused and who they were abused by within the Wollongong diocese.

While there are no names, the figures show 18 Wollongong church perpetrators were subject to one or more claims of child abuse – one per cent of claims across Australia.

All but one of these was identified to the church, more than half were priests, and all but one were male. One alleged child sex abuser was subject to eight separate claims, and on average, 2.7 claims were made against each perpetrator.

As for their victims, more than two thirds were younger than 13 at the time of the alleged abuse, and 91 per cent were boys. The alleged abuse happened at 14 churches or parishes, seven schools and one orphanage within the Wollongong diocese.

The research by the commission with the assistance of the Catholic church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, analysed claims data from 1980 to 2015 together with information about ministry staff from 1950 to 2010.

Speaking outside the hearing, chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan said: "From the 1950s to the current time this report chronicles human damage and misery at the hands of the Catholic church."

About 20 per cent of Australian children attend Catholic schools with Mr Sullivan noting the data shows a "massive drop off" in the incidence of alleged child sexual abuse in schools and parishes since the 1970s.

Mr Sullivan said Catholic schools had boosted child protection protocols.

"Even though it took the Catholic church far too long to get its act together, it has put in place policies, procedures, prevention strategies, reporting requirements and obligations to police," he said.

Mark Eustance, ‎director of Professional Standards - Catholic Church (Queensland), told the inquiry people are still reluctant to report suspected abuse.

"There's still a reticence to make a telephone call or blow the whistle if concerning information is raised," he said. "I think that is changing though."

The hearing, before Justice Peter McClellan, continues.

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