Four of Australia’s major church denominations have so far opted into the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse.
The Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, the Uniting Church and the Salvation Army have all applied to join the national scheme—but they have some steps left to complete before they’re fully registered, according to the NRS website.
Once fully joined, these churches will join the growing list of organisations, including the Christian youth charity YMCA, that have committed to compensating victims of past child sexual assaults.
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Justice for Those Abused in Church or Government Care
The National Redress Scheme, launched on July 1, is the government body set up to secure compensation for people who were abused as children under the care of institutions such as schools, youth clubs and churches.
The scheme was set up as a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It’s meant to be a support system for people who were abused as children in institutions, but are unable to take the legal route in their search for justice.
The NRS holds institutions accountable for incidents of abuse, and helps victims to access counselling, a personal acknowledgement if they want one, and financial compensation.
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Already since its launch, more than 500 people have applied to the scheme for redress over past abuse according to SBS.
Catholic and Anglican Churches Signed up Early
The Catholic Church was the first non-government institution to opt in, and by its own estimates it will be liable for up to $1 billion in compensation reports the Herald Sun.
The Anglican Church already had its own redress scheme before the NRS was launched, but has welcomed the government scheme. In a statement, the Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said it was another way victims could seek justice.
“We hope that our participation in the independent National Redress Scheme will offer a further step to healing.” ~ Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier
“We know that some survivors of abuse have chosen not to engage in our present institutional redress schemes,” the statement said. “We hope that our participation in the independent National Redress Scheme will offer a further step to healing.”
The Federal Government has estimated its average payout will be about $76,000, according to a factsheet about the scheme, but payments could be up to a maximum of $150,000. The scheme will run for 10 years.
Other organisations that have joined include Scouts Australia, the YMCA, prisons and detention centres, hospitals, hostels, community services, sport venues, local councils and government organisations, and TAFE colleges.
Criminals May Miss Out on Compensation for Abuse
A report in The Age says that some critics – including personal injury lawyers – believe the scheme lets institutions off the hook, by costing them less in compensation than a court-based process.
Other criticisms include the fact that victims who have spent five or more years in prison may not be entitled to compensation. One man applying for redress told the ABC that this was an injustice, considering childhood abuse is the very thing that sets many people on the path to a life of crime.
Tim Costelloe, the Catholic Archbishop of Perth, sees this as an injustice, too.
“We have to understand that a terrible crime has been committed against people who were sexually abused as children or young people,” he told the ABC.
“Whatever implications or consequences play out in a person’s life because of that, it doesn’t alter the fact a terrible wrong has been done to them.”
Church Properties up for Sale
Earlier this year the Anglican Church of Tasmania released a list of 78 properties it has decided to sell to help fund the expected redress costs.
The Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, Right Reverend Richard Condie, told the ABC he was expecting up to 200 survivors of sexual abuse to seek redress.
The Tasmanian Diocese has already increased the payment cap for its own Pastoral Support and Assistance Scheme up to $150,000 per claim, in line with the maximum payment under the Redress Scheme.
A number of properties are also up for sale in the Newcastle diocese. One in particular, in Bungwahl, raised controversy with local residents wanting to keep the church for the community, and posting signs with slogans such as, “Don’t sell our church to pay for your sins”.