top of page

Alleged abuse survivor can reopen case due to Catholic Church’s ‘unjust' settlement

CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to child abuse.

A man who allegedly survived childhood sexual abuse from a priest can reopen his claims for compensation after the ACT’s highest court ordered his original settlement with the Catholic Church be set aside.

It is the first decision of its kind since the Territory’s law was changed in 2022 to allow child abuse survivors to have ‘unjust’ settlements set aside so they can receive fair and proper compensation.

The man’s lawyer, Hassan Ehsan from Maliganis Edward Johnson, said the decision “opened the door to other victims”.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

“The decision has set a framework for other victims who might be considering taking a similar step.”

The man settled a child sexual abuse claim against the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn in 2006, the ACT Supreme Court’s Acting Justice Greg Curtin SC said in Thursday’s (28 March) judgment.

But no one explained the deed of release to him before he settled, he was not legally represented and not advised of his rights, while he also suffered from dyslexia and had poor reading and writing abilities.

“So poor were those abilities that he thought the release was a different document entirely at the time he signed it,” the judge said.

It is alleged the now-dead Father Lloyd Reynolds, an ordained priest of the Catholic Church of Australia, abused the man between 1966 and 1973.

The priest, who lived at the presbytery house next to the St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Aranda, allegedly raped him at least 80 to 100 times, starting from when he was six or seven.

“[The man] recalled that he felt the abuse was wrong,” Acting Justice Curtin said.

“He said that he believes he acted out in school in hopes of being punished and sent to jail to escape Father Reynolds’ abuse.”

He left school after he turned 14. His mental health suffered significantly due to the alleged abuse and he endures ongoing trauma.

In 2006, he made a formal complaint and an investigation was started by Bishop Patrick Power from the church’s NSW/ACT professional standards office.

Bishop Power allegedly introduced him to a purported ‘solicitor’ the church had provided due to his difficulties with reading and writing, but the ‘solicitor’ did not tell him his rights, legal obligations, or the law on any damages claim.

Also, the man claimed that during negotiations with Bishop Power, the latter “offered him $20,000 to pay for a nice car”, Acting Justice Curtain said.

He was eventually offered $100,000, which the ‘solicitor’ told him he should consider. He didn’t get any independent legal advice before he verbally agreed to the offer.

But he then signed several documents during a meeting with Bishop Power, documents which he says he later found out to have actually been the deed of release to settle his sexual abuse claim.

He was paid $100,000 after he signed the documents.

Acting Justice Curtin said he thought Bishop Power, who signed the release, was an educated man with higher-than-average cognitive and reasoning skills.

“Those two factors satisfy me that there was a substantial inequality of bargaining power at the time of the negotiation and signing of the release,” he said.

The judge said it seemed clear the man’s damages could be significantly greater than $100,000.

“In all of those circumstances, the release is not a just and reasonable agreement and should be set aside,” he said.

Mr Ehsan said his client was now able to go through the litigated process and have his claim assessed without any of the legal barriers that he faced when he entered into negotiations on the last occasion.

“The matter is currently being litigated in the ACT Supreme Court,” he said.

There were three defendants in the matter. The Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and Archbishop Christopher Prowse neither consented nor opposed the release being set aside, while the Commonwealth of Australia was not actively involved in the application.

If this story has raised any concerns for you, 1800RESPECT, the national 24-hour sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, can be contacted on 1800 737 732. Help and support are also available through the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 02 6247 2525, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT 02 6280 0900, and Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call Triple Zero.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page