Lawyers acting for the Catholic Church have argued that legislation passed to close a legal loophole that has helped the church avoid liability for victims of sexual abuse does not apply to the father of a former altar boy who prosecutors say was sexually abused by George Pell.
But Julian Burnside, QC, acting for the father, told Supreme Court Justice Michael McDonald on Thursday that if the court found the legislation did not apply to family members, it would undermine the law’s purpose.
Pell was convicted in 2018 by a County Court jury of abusing two choirboy teenagers in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral after a Sunday Mass in December 1996. Those convictions were overturned by the High Court in 2020 and Pell was released from prison after more than a year. in custody.
One of the altar boys died in his thirties in 2014 of an accidental heroin overdose, having never brought charges against Pell. The father of the deceased man, referred to in court as RWQ, filed a civil suit in the Supreme Court last month.
Chris Caleo, QC, acting for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, said the Legal Identity of Defendants Act passed in 2018 made the church liable for financial compensation for damages only to victims, as it was designed to apply to survivors of abuse, not their families.
“We’re saying that context, as a whole, means we’re only talking about the claims of the victim themselves,” Caleo said.
But Burnside argued against that claim, saying the church’s submission was “manifestly wrong” and not what parliament intended when the legislation was passed. He said such an interpretation could extinguish families’ legal rights if a victim of child abuse dies, as in this case.
“The purpose of this law was to allow the prosecution of [non-governmental organisations]he told Judge McDonald.