What Can Be Done About Confidentiality Clauses? (Or: Mr. Pell, Tear Down That Clause)


The problems with confidentiality clauses for victim compensation packages, typically entered into by the Catholic Church’s “Melbourne Response” and “Towards Healing” programs, were covered in yesterday’s posting.

No amount of explanation will convince many victims that they are meaningless documents. Some may take the safer, though more distressing, path of not giving evidence to avoid the issue of confidentiality agreements. This would be a tragedy. As Tony Jones of the ABC stated, victims “believe the confidentiality agreement still holds and here’s where the problem is”.

A Sydney Morning editorial piece was too accepting of the situation when it noted that “One can only hope that confidentiality agreements will no longer provide a smokescreen behind which perpetrators hide.” An “Age” piece put it better: “What victims want is a written guarantee from the [Melbourne Catholic] archbishop (Denis Hart) that they will not face any repercussions (at the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry). They want their experiences known, but not under fear of being pursued by the law firm for the archbishop.”

The real question which needs to be put to Bishop Hart, when he fronts the Victorian enquiry this week, is what is he prepared to do to clear up the matter of confidentiality agreements? He is head of the Catholic Church in Australia in his role as Chairman of the Bishops Conference. Over a decade ago, his U.S. counterpart rejected confidentiality clauses explicitly.

Mr. Hart, and anyone else who has imposed confidentiality clauses on victims, should send a letter to all victims formally removing this unpalatable condition on compensation. The Victorian Parliamentary Committee should push him on this matter, and make him give a definite commitment.

Failure to release victims from the clause can mean only one thing – there is an intention to use the clause as a bargaining chip. This is unacceptable. The offending organisations are not in a position to bargain, only to make amends.

In the absence of the confidentiality contracts being torn up, direct action has to be taken to challenge the validity of the offensive clauses.

It may be necessary for some brave soul to flagrantly breach the agreement. There may be a need, if the churches take action, for pro bono legal support. It may even be necessary for people to raise the funds to repay the churches, if their action to recover the compensation proved successful in the courts.

In reality, as Andrew Morrison has noted, “I think it’s extraordinarily unlikely that anyone will try it on.”

Nevertheless, only a clear determination removing the threat of the confidentiality clause will fully convince victims they have nothing to worry about when giving an account of the abuses they have endured. Hopefully, this outcome will eventuate one way or the other.

TOMORROW: The Victorian enquiry continues

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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