REPRESENTATIVES of more than 30 survivors of clergy sexual abuse will give evidence to a Victorian inquiry when it returns to Ballarat on February 28.
A large group of survivors and advocates is expected to attend the hearing at the Ballarat Lodge with evidence related to a group submission from the Ballarat region to be heard.
Participants in the group submission elected not to give evidence when the inquiry first visited Ballarat on December 7 last year, seeking to avoid additional trauma during the Christmas period.
Geelong priest Father Kevin Dillon is expected to give evidence during a regional hearing on Friday, becoming the first Catholic priest in active ministry to speak to the inquiry.
Fr Dillon said he would call for a new body to be established to deal with complaints of abuse by Catholic clergy.
“None of the victims I talk to feel that the people within the current system have any understanding of their experience and the struggle they face on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
“They have been put through a highly legalised and inquisitorial system which is not helpful to their needs.”
Fr Dillon, parish priest of St Mary and the Angels in Geelong, actively supports around 40 victims of sexual abuse.
He said priests were disappointed by the use of legal tactics adopted by the Catholic Church, including the so-called ‘Ellis defence’ where the church argues its assets are held in a property trust which is not liable for damages.
“After nearly 44 years of service, when the Church tells us we are not employees but are self-employed, you don’t know if you should laugh or cry,” he said.
“None of the people I have worked with have gone through the Melbourne Response or Towards Healing for the money.”
Senior Catholic leaders have offered full co-operation with the inquiry with Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell offering to give evidence if required.
The inquiry is due to report to the Victorian Parliament by April 30.