In a major development in the long-running issue, theArchdiocese of Adelaide and the Sisters of Mercy, the Irish order of nuns whichran the orphanage, have set up a formal program to deal with the complaints andresultant compensation claims.
The program is aimed at avoiding costly, drawn-out court action with abusevictims; and is modelled on similar, successful "restorative justice" programsin Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Under the program the Archdiocese is inviting former residents to lodgecomplaints about their treatment at the orphanage which may have includedphysical and sexual abuse, hardship and deprivation.
Archdiocese of Adelaide Chancellor Jane Swift said each complaint would beassessed individually and the church response may include a range of servicesand support, financial compensation and an invitation for a pastoral meetingwith Church representatives.
It was expected there would be "no more than 40 or 50" individual casesrelating to orphanage ex-residents.
Most were expected to be instances of physical abuse and deprivation. Onlyone case so far involves alleged sexual abuse.
"The Sisters of Mercy were committed to providing the children with as goodan upbringing as was feasible within their physical, financial and spiritualcapacities," Chancellor Swift said. "I know of so many Sisters who workedtirelessly and caringly for their charges and formed lifelong friendships.
"However, there is no doubt that institutional life could never take theplace of a caring family environment and, tragically, we know that abuses haveoccurred.
"The Church has a moral and civil obligation to do what it can to redress anyabuse.
"I hope this program will be received in the spirit in which it is offered tothe former residents."
Chancellor Swift said an independent panel of barristers was being finalisedto assess each case and would begin its work shortly.
"We will go with what their assessment in each case says," she said.
A telephone helpline – 1800 139 020 – has been established forformer residents to call to seek information.
The Sisters of Mercy ran Goodwood orphanage from 1890 until it closed in1975. Residents included orphans, British child migrants from England during andfollowing World War II, and children placed in institutional care because offamily hardship.
Numerous former residents have contacted the Catholic Church since evidenceof the abuse was tabled in the British House of Commons in 1997.
Law firm Duncan Basheer Hannon has launched a class action involving about 20former residents with negotiations occurring for the past two years.
Lawyer Peter Humphries yesterday welcomed the program and will meet churchofficials tomorrow to discuss it in detail.
"I am pleased the Catholic Church has worked this through to the point theyhave now been able to put forward a comprehensive proposal for resolution ofthese claims," Mr Humphries said.
"I think there are a number of points that are going to need furthernegotiation, but I am hopeful we are going to be able to achieve a compromise atsome point in the near future".