Victorian Anglican Church to modernise governance to help any future victims of abuse
The Anglican Church in Victoria will soon become a company to allow any future child sexual abuse victims to sue for damages.
All five of the church’s Victorian dioceses voted to incorporate following a recommendation by the 2013 Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse.
It ends the legal debate about whether the church can be sued by creating a legal entity accountable for children in its care.
The nation’s top Anglican and Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, said it was part of an effort to modernise the church’s governance.
“I would hope that people who are survivors of child sexual abuse will take some heart out of the willingness that we have to set up this more accountable and transparent means,” he said.
“If we had an ideal world we would have had these things in place from the 1930s or 40s.
“But I think as much as we are learning the enormity of injury to the people who have been abused as children, it’s proper that we, as a whole community, take that responsibility very seriously.”
The incorporation of the church also makes the clergy employees for the purposes of WorkCover.
Change not retrospective
Michael Hayden is currently seeking compensation from the Anglican Church for the sexual and physical abuse he suffered as a teenager at an orphanage in country Victoria in the 1960s.
He said it was a momentous development.
“Part of growing up and maturing in these systems is the recognition that we don’t always get it right and I think they’ve taken a significant step forward,” Mr Hayden said.
The church’s decision to adopt company status will only allow future victims to sue and will have no bearing on the cases of existing survivors of abuse.
Mr Hayden urged the church to attempt to make the change retrospective to encourage other abuse survivors to come forward.
“It discounts the reality of those who are here now and it doesn’t say much for them at all,” he said.
“If you’re just saying ‘I draw a line in the sand, but all you people that are existing now, pre-line in the sand, don’t really matter it’s what’s done is done’, that’s just another rejection.”
Lawyer Angela Sdrinis has represented numerous survivors of institutional abuse.
Ms Sdrinis said the Anglican Church’s decision should be applauded but would be more meaningful if it could be applied retrospectively.
“It’s still a question of in terms of the past, the church’s goodwill [in paying compensation],” she said.
“Whether or not the Victorian Government will come up with a legislative change that will cover the past as well is still to be determined.
“Certainly the Victorian Government I know are looking at how to make these changes, how to force churches to adopt these changes, and how to make these changes retrospective if at all possible.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is also expected to consider the issue.