SYDNEY (AFP) – Cardinal George Pell’s sex crime conviction is expected to unleash a flood of lawsuits by abuse victims who fear they were cheated by a compensation scheme set up by the disgraced cleric himself, lawyers said.
The most senior Catholic clergyman found guilty of child sex abuse, Pell is behind bars awaiting sentencing for assaulting two in 1996-97, shortly after he was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne.
Around the same time, Pell set up the “Melbourne Response” – a redress plan to compensate victims of clerical abuse in Australia’s Victoria state.
The plan required sex abuse victims to waive their right to future claims and capped compensation payments at Aus$50,000, a figure later raised to Aus$75,000.
The scheme has long been criticised for helping the Church limit its financial liability, and the announcement this week that its architect had himself been convicted of child sex abuse heightened the mistrust.
“Anything that Pell designs loses credibility” with his conviction, lawyer Ingrid Irwin from Pell’s hometown of Ballarat in Victoria told AFP.
Irwin has represented clients who alleged they were abused by Pell.
“At a time when he is sexually assaulting the young in Melbourne, he is designing a compensation scheme to get out of it. So it is completely inappropriate,” she said.
Irwin predicted victims could receive more than Aus$500,000 in compensation if they challenged their earlier awards through the justice system.