Door finally opens for victims of child abuse
By Michael Giles
PAEDOPHILE priest, Fr Daniel Dominic Hourigan, abused school children and altar boys from Leongatha and district when he was the parish priest at St Laurence O’Toole’s Catholic Church from 1980 to November 1984.
And the Catholic Church knew he was doing it.
But Fr Hourigan will not be brought to justice.
He died, allegedly of a heart attack, on September 18, 1995, three days after he was officially charged with one count of sexual penetration of a boy, an incident which occurred at Houlihan’s previous parish, in full knowledge of the church, before they moved him to Leongatha.
He was moved to other locations in Gippsland, where he committed further crimes, until he was ultimately suspended by Bishop Jeremiah Coffey in February 1994.
There was no autopsy when he died. A death notice in the Melbourne Age on September 21 simply stated that he died “peacefully”.
He was due to appear in the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court on November 9, 1995.
Police were reportedly preparing more than 20 additional charges, including indecent assault and gross indecency counts, relating to three other boys. The additional offences allegedly occurred in two parishes between 1978 and 1983, including at Leongatha.
I know this because in the week before Fr Hourigan was to appear in court, a distraught local family assembled in the front office of Star newspaper at Leongatha, offering to provide full details of events back in the 1980s once the case came to court.
A member of the family made a phone call some days later to say there was no point now, Fr Hourigan had died.
He had died without many knowing his heinous sins.
On the day before his funeral, children at St Lawrence’s primary school were asked to say a prayer for the Father.
He wasn’t brought to justice at the time and his victims saw no justice then, but thanks to a landmark ruling in Victoria’s Supreme Court yesterday, Wednesday, September 30 where Justice Keogh set aside what was labelled an inadequate $32,500 settlement from the church in 1996, victims of this Gippsland parish priest and others, can now claim proper compensation.
It’s a ruling that’s likely to open the floodgates with hundreds of wronged victims, not only of sexual abuse in the Catholic system, but in other institutions as well.
A partner in the law firm, Rightside Legal, which brought the case on behalf of one of Hourigan’s victims ‘WCB’, Michael Magazanik, explained on ABC Radio this morning what happened and what it means for victims who have previously been forced to accept inadequate settlements.
“My client grew up in Gippsland and was abused by a priest named Daniel Hourigan. Daniel Hourigan was a repeat offending paedophile,” said Magazanik.
“He was shunted from place to place throughout Gippsland by the Catholic Church which knew he was a paedophile.
“He abused my client, and the judge said yesterday “horrendously” between 1977 and 1980. When my client came forward years later, after the priest had been charged and died, my client went forward to the Catholic Church to report his abuse.
“His parents had reported it years earlier, the Catholic Church then used the law as it was then and was effectively we say strong armed him into a terrible pathetic settlement of $32,500, he had to accept, give up all his legal rights, and take a vow of silence in relation to the settlement.
“That was 1998 and that happened to hundreds and hundreds of Victorians and not just Catholic Church survivors but people who were abused in institutions.
“A couple of years ago the Victorian Government passed a fantastic new law [The Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019] which recognizes these historic wrongs and said that if you’ve been abused and you’ve been forced into a settlement, you can go back and try to persuade the judge to set that settlement aside.
“My client yesterday became the first person to use those new laws and persuade a judge to set one of those settlements aside. The judge looked at that Catholic Church deed, said it didn’t stand up to scrutiny and has effectively ripped it up which means my client can now sue for a proper compensation which he is doing.”
Magazanik was asked if his client felt he had no choice but to take the money that was offered.
“Absolutely and he had no choice. The law as it then stood had put massive barriers in front of him. One of them was the construction of the church meant that there was effectively no one with responsibility and money to sue So, it was hopeless you just couldn’t sue and it eventually went all the way to the High Court to become known as The Ellis decision.
“That barrier has also been legally fixed by the Victorian Government. Another issue in his way was something called the statute of limitations, which meant that he was effectively out of time to sue.
“That’s just an egregious wrong for abuse survivors. It can often take decades and decades to report but which time they were legally out of time.
“All those legal barriers have now been fixed but there are hundreds and hundreds of Victorians who fell foul of them back then, and George Pell’s Melbourne Response Scheme other schemes the church set up, and other institutions, meant the survivors took compensation sums which bore no relationship whatsoever to legal entitlements.
“So, this fellow had to accept $32,500 for a lifetime of appalling, appalling damage, damage to his mental health, problems with grog, difficulties with relationships. It’s a familiar story to abuse survivors.
ABC present Ali Moore asked: “What does it mean for other people who were in a similar position and did take a settlement earlier on, and a settlement which, in theory, binds them.”
“What it means is those settlements can be set aside,” said Magazanik.
“Get some sensible advice. Find out what your options are. And if those settlements don’t stack up and almost none of them will in my view… At Rightside, we represented people in Western Australia in the same position, and there are lots of other Victorians with deeds that are just appalling.
“It was just an exercise of power, and the church and other private schools, state schools, state government institutions; they just took advantage of the law. For people with unfair deeds, this decision, this landmark decision throws the door open to them to get those deeds ripped up and go and get proper justice, proper compensation.”
Diocesan Administrator for the Diocese of Sale, Fr Peter Slater, issued the following statement.
“I acknowledge the harm caused by clergy to victims of child abuse in the Catholic Church over many years. There is no defence for that behaviour.
“The Catholic Church has been working assiduously to ensure such abuses do not occur today, or at any time in the future.
“On behalf of the Diocese of Sale and all clergy and staff working here, I offer our support, prayers and willingness to work together for the best outcomes for the survivors of abuse.
“The Diocese of Sale is committed to working with survivors and their families to redress the harm, with practical as well as pastoral means.
“As Justice Keogh’s findings are currently being reviewed, it would not be appropriate to comment further on a process that still has legal ramifications.”