It’s known in legal circles as the Ellis defence and it’s been used by the Catholic Church in Australia when victims of clergy sex abuse have tried to sue.
This week Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell faced intense cross examination about the Ellis defence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.
Former altar boy and sex abuse victim John Ellis tried to sue the Catholic Church trustees and Cardinal Pell.
But in 2007, the New South Wales Court of Appeal ruled the Church’s assets are held in property trusts and are protected from lawsuits against clergy sex abusers.
Cardinal Pell told the Commission he had some reservations about the defence used in the Ellis case.
“I initially was uncertain about the propriety of that defence, I’m not a lawyer, it was pointed out to me, I think successfully, that the role of the trustees was quite limited to the ownership of property, if for example, there was negligence in building, if for example there was asbestos that the trustees could be sued on that account but as they had not been involved in the appointment and supervision of priests, they could not be sued. They did not have liability on that count.”
Cardinal Pell told the Commission he didn’t believe the Church acted fairly towards Mr Ellis from a Christian point of view.
Lawyer Doctor Andrew Morrison represented John Ellis in 2007.
He told Greg Dyett, Cardinal Pell’s appearance at the Royal Commission hasn’t altered his views about the church’s approach to clergy abuse claims.