Historic Court decision - Victoria

A member of the Wattle Place community asked for the following article from The Age newspaper, published mid-November, to be shared, given the significance of the case.

A Victorian jury has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Catholic Church, awarding $3.3 million to the victim of a notorious paedophile after the church argued compensation should be only $250,000.

The Supreme Court case is the first time a civil trial against the Catholic Church has been tested before jurors.

On Friday, the jury delivered a verdict against the diocese of Wagga Wagga over abuse by priest Vincent Kiss. The verdict included handing the victim $1.3 million in exemplary damages, after the diocese initially claimed in its legal defence that it was unaware of Kiss’ abuse of the victim, despite him pleading guilty to criminal charges in 2002 and serving a seven-year prison sentence.

The archdiocese only conceded the abuse and amended its statement of defence on October 20, four days before the trial began.

Once the order is enforced by Justice Stephen O’Meara and interest payments are included, the compensation figure is expected to be the largest for a victim of clerical abuse in Australia.

The church had claimed the man, who was given a pseudonym during the trial, was entitled to only $250,000 in damages for pain and suffering, and should not receive any compensation for past or future economic loss.

Barrister Jonathan Brett, KC, representing the victim, slammed the church’s legal tactics and its failure to follow its own guidelines on responding to historical clerical abuse, known as “Towards Healing”, which caps compensation to victims at $150,000.

“Healing for the victims’ is in the heading, and this is what they are supposed to do, ‘a sensitive and compassionate response to the complainant must be the first priority in all cases of abuse’,” Brett told the jury of six on November 8.

“Words are cheap. That’s 2016, and they are still playing word games in 2023 and saying, ‘Well, all right, he’s pleaded guilty, but we still don’t say it happened’. Until basically the moment we enter the court door they finally say, ‘Well, yes, OK, it did happen’.”

Brett had also argued that exemplary damages were warranted because of the diocese’s failure to respond to an abuse complaint made against Kiss in 1968.

However, barrister Roisin Annesley, KC, representing Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wagga Wagga Mark Edwards, said in her closing submissions to the jury that the victim had “a very good life”.

“The evidence tells you that he was not distressed by the abuse, there was no violence or threat, he was not scared, he did not hate Kiss,” Annesley told the court.

The victim was repeatedly abused by Kiss in 1972 when he was in year 9 and continued for more than two years.

Despite a successful teaching career in NSW and the United Kingdom, the victim told the court of the extensive psychological damage inflicted by Kiss, now aged 91.”