Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird’s decision to be sued for clergy sexual abuse claims has been lauded by survivors.
The decision will pave the way for victims to bring the Ballarat diocese to court over the actions of the previous bishop who is alleged to have presided over child sex abuse.
Peter Blenkiron said Wednesday’s announcement was a “grateful surprise”.
“I hope that Paul will show the way forward for other bishops,” Mr Blenkiron said. “This has been a shining light in all this and I hold this hope very dearly that Ballarat will lead the way for all of Australia.”
Bishop Bird has agreed to put himself forward as the defendant for the Ballarat diocese after new guidelines came into effect on January 1 this year making all church authorities provide an entity for victims to sue.
His stance would allow for notorious paedophile and disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale’s early victims, abused under the leadership of the former bishop James O'Collins, to be able to sue the Ballarat diocese.
“I’ve inherited the history of the community, for good and for ill, and therefore should be ready to address that history in so far as it needs to be addressed,” Bishop Bird said.
Fellow clergy abuse survivor Andrew Collins said the announcement by Bishop Bird was long awaited.
“We’d like to see solutions and healing starting in Ballarat and we are glad to see the bishop showing some leadership and taking steps to do this,” Mr Collins said. Ballarat Shine Lawyers Associate Cameron Cowan said it was a landmark move which finally put the Catholic Church on par with other organisations. He hoped other Catholic dioceses would follow. He said for survivors of abuse, it was as much about acknowledgement of the wrongs as it was about getting compensation to assist them to get their lives on track.
He said in the past the church hid behind defences including the statute of limitations and the fact that there was no entity capable of being sued.
Mr Cowan said abuse victims who had been unjustly compensated in the past must also be given another chance to seek justice.
“If you suffered terrible injuries at the hands of any other organisation, you’d be able to pursue your legal rights,” he said. “In this instance, members of the church have done the wrong thing and this announcement will allow victims to have their claims assessed by an independent body – the courts.”
Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault: 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline: 13 11 14.