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Lismore Diocese Offering Low-Ball Settlements or Dismissal

A woman, known only by the initials GLJ has now won the right to appeal to the high court after the decision was made to throw her historical child sexual abuse case against the catholic church out when the priest she accused of having assaulted her had died before civil action was lodged.

GLJ alleged that the Lismore Diocese had failed to protect her in an attack by Father Clarence Anderson and that it was incredibly traumatic. In 1968, Father Clarence Anderson is alleged to have sexually assaulted GLJ when she was just 14 years old inside the comfort of her own home. A place where she felt she could be safe with a trusted priest ended in a lifetime of trauma.

When Father Clarence Anderson died, the case was thrown out. As a result, the Lismore Diocese used this verdict to help in their other pending child sexual abuse cases. Without Father Anderson being able to discuss the case with the church or a lawyer and properly defend himself, the court ruled that it would not be a fair trial.

Subsequently, the church used this ruling and offered insubstantial settlements or threatened that they would have the case thrown out entirely. The law firm that is investigating over 700 abuse victims’ claims acknowledged the fact that the church is using the ‘stayed’ verdict – the case being thrown out due to the death of the priest – to convince others to drop their cases or receive extremely unfair or low settlement offers.

“We have absolutely seen a change in the behaviour of defendants since these rulings were delivered, in particular the Catholic church,”

“Defendants now frequently threaten to stay a claim on the basis that they cannot have a ‘fair trial’ because of the delay taken by a survivor to come forward.

It is commonly known that child abuse stories come out many years after the incidents happen. Children are forced into silence and often do not process their experiences until years or decades later in life. Especially with trusted adults, children model their behaviour and see what is right and wrong based on the morals of those adults.

Previously, GLJ’s case wouldn’t be heard due to reports submitted by the church citing that she had never complained about her experience before, nor when she was younger, and therefore, they weren’t able to investigate these crimes.

Even with crucial documentary evidence showing that officials with positions of authority knew about Anderson’s abuse of boys, the trial was initially thrown out. Instead of removing him from the clergy, Anderson was moved around various parishes. Not only did this keep him within the church, but it also enabled him to abuse more children in different areas.

The Bishop of Lismore at the time of the abuse wrote, “[Anderson] has had recurring trouble in sexual matters, especially homosexuality. This first came to my notice about six years ago, and in every case, young boys were involved. We have made persistent efforts to help him to overcome his problem, but apparently without any appreciable result.”

At the time, the Diocese believed the acceptable action to take was to try and convince him that his views and actions were wrong. They were surprised to find that this did not stop him from abusing children. Lismore Diocese failed to prevent attacks on vulnerable children and therefore, GLJ had to try to take action.

However, in a surprising turn of events, GLJ won the right to appeal the case. The High Court has agreed to hear her case, nonetheless. Although Father Anderson is not the defendant in the case – it is the Lismore Diocese – he was an incredibly useful witness.

GLJ’s lawyers wrote: “The surprising conclusion of the court of appeal was that, notwithstanding the survival of comprehensive documentary evidence about Anderson’s clerical career and his laicisation, about his abuse of other children, and about the diocesan authorities’ knowledge of those matters at the relevant time, and notwithstanding the availability of the applicant and at least four other witnesses to testify to Anderson’s history of abuse, a fair trial could not be had,”

They argued that they had sufficient evidence that included diocesan authority knowledge, four other witnesses’ and documentary knowledge should all be enough to hear an appeal case. With such, an appeal will be made to the High Court.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to one of our historical sexual abuse specialists, for free and in confidence, about your legal options, please feel free to either complete the form below with the best way and the best time to contact you, or you can call us on 02 9283 5599.

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