Church abuse response was flawed: lawyers

The Catholic Church's flawed response to sexual assault reports could have endangered lives and discouraged more people from coming forward, a law firm representing victims says.

Law firm Lewis Holdway Lawyers said in one case, a parent was told no action could be taken against a pedophile priest without a letter from a church-appointed Independent Commissioner.

Another victim, who was suicidal after their disclosure, contacted a church support group, and was told to "call back later", Lewis Holdway said in its submission to a Victorian inquiry into clergy sexual abuse.

The church's internal complaints system often caused more damage to victims, and made it likely that others would be discouraged from reporting sexual assault, the firm said.

It also said clients had been "devastated" to find out that some perpetrators had a history of sexual assault, as this information was not made clear by the church during the reporting process.

The statement was one of 15 new submissions made public on Monday, as part of the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse By Religious and Other Institutions.

The Catholic Church in Victoria also submitted material, stating it had sought to deal proactively with assault allegations, through its processes "Melbourne Response" and "Towards Healing" in 1996 and 1997.

In its booklet, Correcting Misconceptions About Child Abuse and the Catholic Church, the Melbourne Archdiocese denied it took an "in-house" approach to complaints, but encouraged victims to contact police and provided support for them through counselling.

"The healing of a victim of sexual abuse is a long and complex process and evidence suggests that in many cases, full healing will never be achieved," the church said in its booklet.

"Through the processes established by the Church, especially access to counselling, the Church attempts to address the individual needs of each victim."

However, Lewis Holdway said in its statement that "clients were not offered psychological support or counselling", and that the church authority was unwilling to fund counselling for clients upon request.

The Melbourne based firm said it had been working with victims of clergy sexual abuse for 17 years.

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