Abuse survivors pan Vatican secrecy

Annette Blackwell
The Vatican says it will not hand over documents about Australian priests who molested children.

News that the Vatican will not hand over all documents about Australian priests who molested children has been greeted with derision at a major gathering of abuse survivors in Sydney.

Justice Peter McClellan, chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, told the 14th anniversary forum of Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) on Saturday the Holy See had provided two sets of documents about two priests.

However, the Vatican had informed the commission "that requests for all information regarding every case - which include requests for documents reflecting internal 'deliberations' - are not appropriate".

The Holy See said it maintained the confidentiality of internal deliberations related to its judicial and administrative proceedings.

Justice McClellan's comments were greeted with cries of derision and moans of despair from dozens of victims of Catholic Church abuse.

CLAN is concerned that any redress scheme will come too late for its elderly members.

On Saturday, one of the oldest, Ray Prosser, 86, who was named volunteer of the year, said he and "his brothers and sisters" in CLAN would fight all their lives to get justice.

Co-CLAN founder Leonie Sheedy says a national independent redress scheme is a matter of urgency.

Ms Sheedy told AAP last week that if one institution wrote a sizeable cheque, the government could get the ball rolling and she called for action from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Justice McClennan said on Saturday that redress was a priority and the commission would hand down a report in mid-2015 with compensation recommendations, although an extension to 2017 is required to finish the commission's work.

The report will cover the complex issue of the statute of limitations, which applies to civil suits on abuse crimes, as well as outline the commission's thoughts on institutional asset sales to meet redress demands.

The precedent set by the legal battle of CLAN member John Ellis, which means the church is not a legal entity that can be sued for abuse, is still used by church lawyers when victims come forward.

Justice McClellan said during abuse hearings Cardinal Pell had accepted the need for the church to review its reliance upon the Ellis Defence.

Earlier in the week the judge said the Catholic Truth Justice and Healing Council representative Francis Sullivan commented that in cases of child sexual abuse, "all church authorities should have a legal entity that can be sued and that legal entity should be backed by insurance or the church's assets".

Justice McClellan also quoted Mr Sullivan as saying, "it's up to all church authorities to advise their lawyers that is the policy, and those lawyers should get with the program".