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Seeking redress directly from the Diocese

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The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is a signatory to the Towards Healing protocol and has joined the National Redress Scheme. Nevertheless, some people affected by child sexual abuse committed within the Diocese may make a claim for redress directly to the Diocese. The Diocese endeavours to provide a just resolution to claims, without the likely distress and protracted uncertainty that is part of a personal injury court case.

To advise the Diocese of a claim for redress or to seek further advice about making a claim, contact the Office of Safeguarding:
P.   02 4979 1390
E.   abuseclaims@mn.catholic.org.au

The Diocese’s public liability insurance indemnifies some of the claims brought to it. Catholic Church Insurance (CCI) manages such claims. 

Basis for making a claim for redress against the Diocese

A person seeking to make a claim for redress against the Diocese is known as a “claimant”.

Claimants must be legally represented to ensure their best interests are protected. Independent, free legal advice may be obtained from KnowMore Legal Service. More information about KnowMore is available on its website:
https://knowmore.org.au/

To make a claim for redress under this process, the claimant must have suffered some degree of harm as a consequence of having been sexually abused by a person who was a “diocesan worker” at the time of the alleged abuse or for some period of the abuse suffered by the claimant.

“Diocesan worker” is a catch-all phrase referring to any persons acting on behalf of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, including:

  • employees
  • volunteers
  • contractors
  • clergy incardinated to the Diocese or who have been granted faculties to minister in the Diocese
  • religious acting as agents of the Diocese.

The Diocese’s process for attempting to settle claims for redress

In 2010, the Diocese developed a voluntary protocol designed to settle these claims.

The Director of Safeguarding manages claims on behalf of the Diocese not indemnified by CCI.

It is the Diocese’s intent to:

  • provide a means for a claimant to obtain an equitable degree of redress while avoiding the uncertainties, stresses and costs of pursuing a claim through the courts
  • minimise the risk of causing further trauma.

Claims brought against the Diocese are treated as confidential, however the claimant is free to publicise their claim if they choose.

The Diocese has a fiduciary responsibility to its people to achieve a degree of certainty as to the factual basis of the allegations. This is not a question of believing or not believing a claimant, it is an issue of being able to establish on balance of probabilities that an alleged act of abuse or sequence of abusive acts occurred.

The Diocese conducts “due diligence” inquiries to gather available evidence in relation to the alleged abuser and the claimant. The evidence the claimant’s solicitor provides is also considered as part of the due diligence process. To facilitate this process, the claimant is asked to provide the following details at the commencement of the assessment process:

  • times, dates, places and circumstances of contact between claimant and alleged abuser
  • details of the alleged abuse
  • whether any report was made of the alleged abuse to anyone in the Diocese
  • any other details considered relevant and appropriate to the particular claim.

The Diocese will require particular records from the claimant, including:

  • medical records
  • counselling and other mental health or therapeutic treatment records
  • employment history
  • tax returns.

The Diocese’s and claimant’s solicitors should make the necessary arrangements to exchange the required records. 

The Diocese will meet reasonable costs arising from collecting the required records.

The claimant is required to undertake an assessment conducted (preferably) by a psychiatrist, which is an expert third-party assessment of the harm caused to the claimant and its likely causation.

Wherever possible, the Diocese will obtain a joint medico-legal assessment with the claimant, identifying an agreed assessor and preparing a joint letter of instructions.  Sometimes a joint assessment is not possible, the claimant’s solicitor will arrange an independent assessment and the Diocese may require eth claimant to attend an assessor of the Diocese’s choosing.

The Diocese will meet the costs of a joint assessment or the assessment eth Diocese requires the claimant to attend.  This includes the costs of the assessment itself and reasonable travel, accommodation and living expenses incurred by the claimant and their partner or support person, if the claimant wishes.  The Diocese will not meet the cost of the claimant solicitor obtaining a unilateral assessment other than as part of an agreed settlement, should one be achieved.

It may be that other specialist assessments are required, dependent on the particulars of the claim.

On acceptance of the medico legal assessment, the Diocese’s solicitors will prepare advice on the claim. That legal advice, along with other key documents, including submissions made by and on behalf of the claimant, is put before a standing committee that has been established to provide independent advice to the Bishop.

The standing committee consists of the Bishop, Vicar-General and individuals drawn from academia, the law, religion, commerce and the community. These individuals are drawn from outside the Diocese, some from outside the Hunter Valley. Members of the standing committee are subject to strict confidentiality agreements.

With the advice of the Standing Committee, Bishop Wright makes a decision whether the Diocese will attempt to settle the claim through direct negotiations or not.

If the Bishop accepts advice that the Diocese should attempt to settle the claim, he issues instructions to the Director of Safeguarding who is then empowered to attempt to settle the claim.

If the Bishop accepts advice that there is insufficient evidence to establish the claim, the claimant’s solicitor is advised.  The claimant is able to pursue recourse through the courts or the National Redress Scheme or the Towards Healing process or civil courts.

If the Director of Safeguarding is issued instructions to attempt to settle the claim, a settlement conference is arranged between the claimant’s solicitors and the Diocese’s solicitors. The settlement conference may or may not involve a mediator to assist both sides to achieve a settlement.

The claimant is expected to participate in the settlement conference. As part of the settlement conference, the claimant has the ability to address any relevant matters he/she may wish to with the Director of Safeguarding.

The Diocese will meet reasonable travel, accommodation and living expenses for the claimant and a partner or support person to attend the settlement conference, if no settlement is achieved.  If a settlement is achieved, those costs are considered part of the settlement quantum.

If a settlement is achieved, the claimant is obliged to sign a deed of settlement and release, which is a legal document.  The Diocese will not accept a deed without evidence that the claimant’s solicitor has properly informed them of the deed, its purpose and effect.

A properly signed and witnessed deed must be received by the Diocese’s solicitor before the Diocese will release the settlement funds.

The Diocese asks that the claimant maintain confidentiality about the settlement quantum (how much money was agreed to).  However, the claimant is free to discuss the abuse they have suffered and any other aspect of the settlement process.

Claimants are able to seek non-financial considerations as part of their settlement. In the past decade the Diocese has endeavoured to address non-financial considerations that may include:

  • pieces of property with particular symbolic significance
  • letters of apology from the Diocese, to themselves and other family members
  • detailed briefings on the actions undertaken by the Diocese to protect children today.

Claimants are invited to meet Bishop Wright after the claim has been resolved. This is intended as a purely pastoral meeting for the claimant. To facilitate such a meeting, the Diocese will cover all reasonable travel, accommodation and living expenses for the claimant and their partner, companion or support person.

There have been arrangements made for the Diocese to meet the costs of multiple members of the claimant’s family, to attend the meeting with the Bishop. Arrangements can be negotiated through Healing and Support (Zimmerman Service) or with the Director of Safeguarding.

Reconsideration of a previously settled claim

Earlier this century, the Diocese dealt directly with a handful of claimants and made settlements with them. The claimants did not have legal representation and concerns arose in more recent times that the settlements made with the claimants were manifestly inadequate.  

To address this situation, the Diocese has established a protocol for reconsidering settled claims.  

Healing and support is separate from the Diocese’s management of claims

The processing and management of these claims is distinct from the services provided through Healing and Support (Zimmerman Services). 

Whilst Healing and Support (Zimmerman Services) is a part of the Office of Safeguarding, there is a firewall between Healing and Support and the Director of Safeguarding. For the purposes of managing a claim, any communications between the claimant and Healing and Support is considered privileged.  If the claimant wishes to rely on material held by Healing and Support, their legal representative will need to contact Healing and Support to obtain it.

Provision of normative service through Healing and Support is not considered part of any agreed settlement; for example, the cost of funding counselling services for a claimant who is also a client of Healing and Support are not considered in reaching an agreed quantum. However, requests for direct financial support will be considered as part of any agreed quantum to settle the claim, should such a settlement be achieved.