Cardinal George Pell wanted to avoid big damages verdicts like those in the US when he set up the Melbourne Response to deal with child sex abuse complaints with a $50,000 cap on payouts in the 1990s, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
The Melbourne Response gave the Church control over how much compensation a victim could receive when its liability could not be established, the Cardinal agreed yesterday in evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
In reponse to questions from Commission Chair, Justice Peter McClellan, Cardinal Pell said he had not wanted the Church in Australia to be subject to damages higher than other Australian institutions. He said he had set up the Melbourne Response in 1996 after the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, told him 'Now you clean this thing up and there won’t be a Royal Commission.'
The Cardinal’s moral choices in dealing with sex abuse cases have come under sustained challenge at the Royal Commission. Cardinal Pell said his instructions to 'vigorously' and 'strenuously' defend claims by John Ellis that he was abused were intended to discourage claimants, so they would 'think clearly' before litigating against the Church.
Cardinal Pell has defended disputing in court whether Mr Ellis was really abused. He said his lawyers assured him it was a 'proper' legal tactic and Mr Ellis was a senior lawyer who would have understood he was not disbelieved.
Cardinal Pell worried by US abuse payouts (The Herald Sun)
Cardinal Pell testifies before Royal Commission (Vatican Radio)