Monash University
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Sexual assault and the Catholic Church: are victims finding justice?

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posted on 2019-02-20, 21:18 authored by Courtin, Judith Edwina
Over the last two to three decades in Australia, and internationally, there has been increasing exposure of institutional child sex crimes within the Catholic Church which has prompted demands for justice. In 2012, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-government Organisations was established as was a commission of inquiry into the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese in New South Wales. At the end of 2012, a national Royal Commission was set up to investigate child sexual assaults in government and non-government institutions, including the Catholic Church. This doctoral thesis commenced two years before these inquiries. It is a qualitative empirical study and case law analysis that sets out to determine whether victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Australia are finding justice. To tackle this line of investigation, 70 people from Victoria and New South Wales, including primary and secondary victims, were interviewed about their experiences with civil litigation, criminal prosecutions and the Catholic Church’s internal complaints processes. In order to determine whether victims had found justice within these processes, a preliminary question needed to be addressed: ‘What is justice for these people?’ This latter line of inquiry identified seven critical criteria for justice for victims. These criteria were employed ultimately to evaluate the three pathways to justice, as outlined above. The findings of this research demonstrate that victims of clergy sexual abuse interviewed in this research are not finding justice. Further, those victims who attended the Church’s internal complaints processes, the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing, as well as not finding justice, suffered additional abuse and harm. The thesis concludes by outlining the significance of these findings and the types of reforms necessary to effectively address the justice needs of victims and their families, as identified in this research.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Bronwyn Naylor

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Law