Mar 10, 2014

What Pell must explain: inquiry hears victim’s long fight for justice

John Ellis fought for 12 years to win compensation for horrific sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The man who took his brave fight to the High Court framed the issue at the royal commission this morning.

Margot Saville — <em>Crikey</em> Sydney reporter

Margot Saville

Crikey Sydney reporter

Last month Cardinal George Pell, then archbishop of Sydney, sent out a letter to his flock pointing out that the current ecclesiastical season of Lent required acts of penance. And Pell is taking his own advice. Recently appointed to a position in the Vatican City, one of Pell’s last acts before leaving Australia will be appearing before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.


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17 thoughts on “What Pell must explain: inquiry hears victim’s long fight for justice

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Ellis’ case wasn’t heard substantively by the High Court. Rather, the High Court declined to grant Ellis leave to appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (Court of Appeal). The High Court doesn’t publish reasons for declining to grant leave to appeal, but it is most likely that the Court believed that no new important principle of law was involved. The High Court declined special leave on 16 November 2007.

    The substantive decision was Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of Sydney v Ellis & Anor [2007] NSWCA 117. In that case the court found that the Roman Catholic Church was an unincorporated association. It is well established that an unincorporated association cannot sue nor be sued.

    The court’s core finding was that –

    ‘The relationship between individual office holders in the Roman Catholic Church (such as an assistant parish priest) and the members of that Church as a whole is too slender and diffuse to establish the members’ liability as principals in contract or their vicarious liability in tort.’

    The judgment can be found on austlii.

  2. paddy

    Thank you Gavin. There’s nothing like the input of a well informed comments section.

  3. The Pav

    Whilst I accept that the court knows better than the law I would have hoped that ” if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck” principle might have applied.

    That australia is a the sole nation where the church is so exempted from responsibility is a grave injustice.

    We can only hope that the PM recognises this and urgently introduces legislation to close this loophole. After all doesn’t the LNP preach being accountable?

  4. Venise Alstergren

    THE PAV: You would like Tony Abbott to close this loophole? You have to be joking! He only goes where the money is.

  5. Liamj

    That the catholic church takes advantage of the ‘unincorporated’ ruling to evade its responsibilities is disgusting, it invalidates the pretence to charitable aims and should disqualify it from tax-deductible status.

    If current law is insufficient then new legislation is needed to compel it to admit responsibility and pay compensation. I’ll bet that money/serious risk of losing tax-free status would motivate the church to rediscover its concience.

  6. PDGFD1

    Thank you Gavin…
    Supreme Court or High Court, what a shame neither can apparently take common sense in account.
    If the ‘Church’ were in fact a ‘slender’ and ‘diffuse’ organisation, it would be unable to occupy real estate, or have edicts obeyed, or excommunicate from afar.
    Seemingly another case of the law being “… honoured more in the transgression than in the observance”.

    Lunch at Machiavelli, Aria, or indeed Aubergine lads?

  7. The Pav

    Venise @ 4

    If the PM did legislate then he would be proving the existence of God as it would be a miracle.

    You can correctly assume that I am not expecting to have to change my beliefs anytime soon

  8. PDGFD1

    Liamj… indeedy-do-dah-dey!

  9. Peter Murphy

    I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!
    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  10. Blue Lady Orchid

    First, thanks for your article Margot.

    1. I think it’s preposterous the High Court doesn’t offer a reason behind its judgement. What’s the rationale behind that? Entity unto itself?
    2. If the argument, Priests are paid through stipends… who manages those? Doesn’t that lead back to the church? If so then I would think they[RC Church] are accountable.

    Even though there’s no financial equivalent to the loss experienced on a personal level in these cases. I hope financial compensation will help create a sense of justice for the victim to some extent.

    I liked your point “disqualify [it] from tax-deductible status.” An angle worth considering in PM’s taxation overhaul.

    Why does Australia follow Common Law? I’m hoping new Lawyers with fresh eyes can make changes in the future where out-dated rules of Law no longer apply.

    Blue Lady Orchid

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