The Catholic Church's attempt to prevent a legal ruling allowing the father of a choirboy, allegedly sexually abused by Cardinal George Pell, from suing for damages, has been rejected initially.
The father, identified as RWQ in court documents, brought a case against the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and Cardinal Pell. He claimed emotional distress upon learning of the alleged sexual abuse of his now-deceased son by the cardinal in the mid-1990s.
Despite Cardinal Pell's denial, he had five convictions for abusing the man’s son and another boy, which were overturned by the high court in 2020.
The Church attempted to avoid the lawsuit using the Ellis defense, arguing that the father couldn't sue as he wasn't the direct victim of the alleged abuse. However, in August 2022, Justice Michael McDonald ruled that secondary victims, including the father, could proceed with claims, prompting the archdiocese to appeal.
The archdiocese needed court of appeal permission to challenge this ruling, but this was denied.
The appeal judges noted that the law didn't restrict plaintiffs in child abuse cases to a specific category, implying that the law was designed to address the perceived unfairness of the Ellis defence.
The father claimed the Catholic Church was liable for his son's abuse and the subsequent psychological suffering. His lawyer stated that, especially after the findings of the royal commission on child sexual abuse, the Church should compensate survivors rather than shirking responsibility.
This court decision is significant for relatives dealing with psychological trauma.