Clergy abuse victim wins $20,000 payout

The Sydney Morning Herald/November 25, 2012

One of at least 12 students who allege they were sexually abused by a priest at a New South Wales Catholic school has been awarded compensation by the state government.

Fairfax Media can reveal that Cameron Searl, a former student of Chevalier College in Bowral, was awarded $20,000 by the Victims Compensation Tribunal in December 2008 after it determined he had been sexually abused between 1984 and 1985 by a priest who taught music at the school.

"Having carefully considered all of the material on this file, I am satisfied on a 'balance of probabilities' that the incidents of sexual abuse occurred in the course of the commission of an offence and involved violent conduct on the applicant," the Victims Compensation Tribunal concluded.

The head of Missionaries of Sacred Heart, Father John Mulrooney, last week confirmed that 12 students had told the school's principal or the church that they had been sexually abused by Father Tony Caruana during the 1980s.

Despite the decision to award compensation to one of Father Caruana's alleged victims, the priest was found not guilty of child sexual abuse by NSW courts in separate cases in 1990 and 1994, with the judge in the latter case directing the jury to find him not guilty. Father Caruana does not teach any more but remains employed by the church as an archivist.

Former students who allege they were abused by Father Caruana have claimed that the school discouraged them from reporting the abuse to their parents and police.

But Father Mulrooney has disputed this, saying records showed the school had passed on complaints to police.

"Twelve students then made statements, which were then taken immediately to the local police," he said.

It is understood neither the school nor the Missionaries of Sacred Heart retain any copies of the statements provided to police.

Mr Searl, who was 13 when he was allegedly abused, says he was groomed after music lessons at the school for months before the molestation took place. "It pretty much destroyed my ability to have a normal adolescence," Mr Searl, now 42, said. "I told the headmaster and the school's counsellor but nothing happened."

Mr Searl said he had decided to speak publicly about his ordeal after Prime Minister Julia Gillard's announcement of a royal commission on child sexual abuse.

"I think it is important for people who had that happen to them to make sure things are out in the public domain because there has been enough secrecy around this for too long. Only then will the church and everyone else move on and perhaps solve the wider issue of paedophilia."

Other former students who claimed to have been abused by Father Caruana are understood to have later dealt directly with police and made formal statements - a procedure required to sustain charges.

Court records show that Father Caruana was charged with abusing a person under 16 in his care - charges likely to relate to two alleged victims - but was found not guilty in 1990.

Father Mulrooney said: "Some of these students who made statements [to the school] were cross-examined at the trial. Tony was found not guilty of the two charges. Tony Caruana has worked in our order's archives since then. He has not been in any public ministry."

In 1994, Father Caruana faced fresh charges of sexually abusing a minor under the age of 10 but a jury was directed by the judge to find him not guilty.

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