Failed Catholic Church appeal paves the way for hundreds of survivors to sue for top ups

paedophile daniel hourigan

In 1996, a former altar boy known as WCB was paid $32,500 by the Catholic Church after he was repeatedly sexually abused by a Warragul priest from 1977 to 1980. 

The priest’s name was Daniel Hourigan (pictured above). 

WCB, like many other survivors of abuse, was paid to remain silent in the 1990s. The Catholic Church wanted to keep their stories hush-hush and maintain their reputation in the public sphere.

It wasn’t easy for WCB to win this meager compensation, either. The Catholic Church tried to deny the abuse ever happened, despite Hourigan admitting to the abuse before he died in 1995.

Hourigan was also facing criminal charges for multiple instances of child sexual abuse before his death.

WCB was insulted by the whole experience, especially considering the horrendous abuse he suffered when he was 12-years-old. The abuse had an intense impact on his life. To make matters worse, the church also failed to apologise to WCB for what happened to him as a child.

However, the Supreme Court overturned the deed of release in December 2020. This allowed WCB to sue the Catholic Church for more damages and receive the full compensation he deserves. 

The Catholic Church attempted to appeal the court’s decision, but the challenge was rejected in WCB’s favour.

Appeals judges David Beach, Stephen Kaye and Robert Osborn said the 1996 payment was a “very modest one” and did not commensurate “for the wrong done to [WCB]”.

The Diocese of Sale said it would consider the court’s findings – but the Catholic Church would have to go to the High Court to lodge another appeal.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling means WCB can sue the church in 2021. It also means other abuse victims who received capped payments in the 1990s could sue the church for top-ups. This includes compensation awarded under the Melbourne Response Scheme.

Hundreds of abuse survivors could be eligible for more compensation 

In 2019, the Victorian Government passed a law allowing the court to set aside a past deed of release relating to child abuse. This includes court judgments. 

We hope WCB’s important win against the Catholic Church encourages more survivors of abuse who accepted money in the 1990s to come forward. You could be eligible for more compensation.

Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme. 

Image: Sydney Morning Herald

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