31 Oct 2010

Australian Anglican Church votes down internal push by clergy to drop the statute of limitations

The Australian - June 22, 2009

No church shift on child abuse

by Michael McKenna

THE Anglican Church yesterday voted down an internal push by clergy to drop the statute of limitations on legal action for child sexual abuse.

A motion before the three-day Brisbane synod, overseen by Primate Phillip Aspinall, would have set a nationwide precedent in exempting victims from laws that require they launch legal action by the time they turn 21.

Peter Shayler-Webb tabled a motion that said the legal defence "works great injustice to victims of child sexual abuse by preventing them bringing cases, whether they have merit or not".

It called on the church "to set an ethical lead in the community by the diocese not invoking the statute of limitations defence".

But on the last day of the Synod yesterday, the Anglican hierarchy stopped the motion from going ahead, substituting a reworded and subsequently endorsed motion calling on Dr Aspinall to set up a protocol to drop the time-limit defence on a case-by-case basis.

The synod "asks the archbishop in council to continue its ethical lead by undertaking negotiations with the diocesan insurers to establish a protocol for dealing with claims by victims of child sexual abuse when the diocese considers it appropriate not to invoke the time limitations defence, but without losing indemnity from the insurers".

A spokesman for Dr Aspinall, who is Archbishop of Brisbane, said last night an appropriate case might involve the death of a witness to a compensation claim.

But the protocol is unlikely to affect previous victims of abuse, since Dr Aspinall told The Australian last week it was the insurers who dictated how a lawsuit was handled if the church wanted to be indemnified.

Only a few victims have overcome the defence by providing otherwise new evidence, paving the way for their case to go to trial and seek compensation.

A survivor of abuse at a Brisbane Anglican school, who is being blocked from seeking compensation by the defence, said the church had betrayed him again.

"This marks yet another lost opportunity for the Anglican Church to do the right thing," he said. "They have chosen to put financial concerns before morality. The fact remains that while the church talks about theoretical reforms, real human lives are being destroyed."

The vote came a day after Dr Aspinall told the synod a deficit in the Brisbane diocese was putting strain on the church.

"We do not have sufficient income to do all the things we need to do," he said.

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