Australian Catholic Church accused of 'hiding behind the law' with historic settlement claims

The lawyer of a man who has been suffering because of the effects of the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of priests when he was young has accused the Catholic Church in Australia of "hiding behind our laws" by sticking to historic settlement claims for victims despite recommendations to scrap these agreements.

(REUTERS / David Gray)A man who claims to have been sexually abused by the Catholic Church holds a placard outside the venue for Australia's Royal Commission in Sydney, in February 29, 2016.

Russell Clark was repeatedly sexually abused and beaten by priests as well as brothers at the Salesian College in Adelaide during the 1960s when he was still 12 years old. However, he mentioned that it felt like he was begging for compensation from the Catholic Church so that he could get medical treatment for everything he was going through, mentally and physically, because of the abuse he had previously endured, ABC Online relayed.

Like many other abuse survivors, Clark had signed a deed of release which keeps him from filing a case or asking for additional compensation from the Catholic Church. The Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, as well as a number of people in the church, has recommended the cancellation of such settlements, but they still continue.

Lawyer Judy Courtin, who represents several victims of church abuse including Clark, told 7.30 that "hundreds of thousands" of survivors had signed settlements for amounts between $20,000 to $40,000 only. However, the Victorian Supreme Court ordered an Orthodox Jewish school to pay $1.2 million in damages to a survivor of institutional abuse in 2015.

Courtin said the Catholic Church has rejected the Royal Commission's recommendation and stands by the deeds of release. It also maintained that it will not negotiate with the abuse survivors.

"Even if the laws favour the church, if they are following the principles and the teaching of Jesus Christ they wouldn't be hiding behind our laws," said Courtin. "They would be on the front foot, doing far, far more to bring about proper justice for victims."

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that leaders of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have met with top Vatican officials in Rome to discuss the situation of the church including the sex abuse scandal it is embroiled in. Among other things, they are also going to talk about the "restoration of trust" in light of the clergy abuse issue that top papal adviser Cardinal George Pell is involved in.

The Australian church has been rocked by revelations of historic sexual abuse and cover-ups, which were only discovered when the Royal Commission launched an inquiry into the issue. The investigative body found that there were 4,444 children who suffered abuse in the last few decades and that 7 percent of the perpetrators were priests.