10 Oct 05
WHILE child migrants and other boys abused by the Christian Brothers have received a public apology, many victims were silenced by confidentiality clauses seeking to absolve the Catholic teaching order of liability. A deed of release between the Christian Brothers of Western Australia and a man whose former teacher was charged with abusing him reveals how the order continued to deny liability despite paying a "settlement" of $35,000.
Phillip Astone, 35, accepted his settlement on December 9, 2003 as part of a deed acknowledging his allegations he was sexually abused by a brother at a Perth school between 1980 and 1984. The deed also provided $5000 for counselling, but states: "nothing in this document constitutes an admission of liability." It states Mr Astone -- one of about 60 men to be compensated since 2002 -- would receive the money following a promise to keep the negotiations about his abuse "strictly confidential".
But the leader of the order in Western Australia and South Australia, Kevin Ryan, said it was no longer thought appropriate to stop victims speaking freely. He believed the confidentiality clauses -- which were standard in all deeds on legal advice -- had been dropped from recent agreements. "The critical issue is that it wasn't achieving anything, either for the person or for ourselves," he said. "Also, we want to continue to be seen to be dealing with this openly and transparently."
The agreements are made under a process called Towards Healing, which was adopted by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference to "acknowledge with deep sadness and regret that a number of clergy and religions have abused children, adolescents and adults who have been in their pastoral care". Mr Astone conceded many people might question his credibility because -- since his settlement -- he had been charged with two counts of sexual assault.
He has pleaded not guilty. "A lot of people in my situation have got messy lives," he said. "They have been in jail, they have been addicted to drugs and, while it's not an excuse, I believe a lot of it is related directly to what happened to them as kids."