Legal push for alleged St Paul’s victims

Former Traralgon boys school St Paul's College could be the latest Catholic school to have a group action launched against it. file photograph

Former Traralgon boys school St Paul's College could be the latest Catholic school to have a group action launched against it. file photograph

A proposed group action will seek compensation for victims of alleged sexual, physical and mental abuse at Traralgon's St Paul's Catholic College for boys in the 1970s.

The organiser of the civil group action wants to contact any possible victims from the college, now the co-educational Lavalla College.

The civil claim, if it proceeds, would assert alleged negligence by the school at its Grey Street campus along with a breach in duty of care and poor supervision and processes at the time for reporting any abuse.

The move follows a group action launched against St Patrick's College in Sale by the same person which has attracted 30 new historical sexual and physical abuse claims at the college since the campaign was launched a month ago.

Organiser and former St Patrick's student, Michael (real name has been withheld) said the proposed action would help abuse victims who had been overwhelmed by the complex and intimidating process of seeking compensation and justice.

"There's emotional and psychological support from fellow abuse victims who truly understand what you've been through," Michael said.

"Victims can initially make contact on a confidential basis then we'll send them an information package so that they can decide if they're ready to move forward with this matter."

The former principal and sports master of St Paul's was Marist brother Gerard Joseph McNamara, who in 2016 pleaded guilty to three counts of indecently assaulting a male under the age of 16 following the abuse of two boys in 1975.

"If you're injured or abused under 16 years of age, you're likely to have permanent psychiatric damage," Michael said.

"A lot of people, because they've suffered a permanent injury such as mental and emotional scarring, [it] leaves them incapable of forming normal relationships.

"The stories that I've heard in the last six weeks include mature men still wetting their beds, men who have not been able to get on with life after the abuse resulting in terrible life outcomes."

Shine Lawyers has been appointed to deal with the historical claims at St Patrick's, Sale.

National special counsellor of abuse with the legal practice, Lisa Flynn, confirmed the firm had been engaged by Michael to act on his behalf in relation to claims against St Patrick's and responsible church entities.

"Since then, we've also met with a number of other people who allege they have suffered abuse at St Pat's in Sale and we're commencing the claims on behalf of those people," Ms Flynn said.

"People have come forward into various different avenues ... they are individual claims and each claim is examined and assessed individually.

"However, the reference to a group action is that there are a number of people who have suffered abuse in similar circumstances at the same institution."

Michael said 14 ex-students from St Paul's had contacted him already and he encouraged others to do the same.

All information was confidential, he said.

"It's also an empowering experience to stand up and take your power back, your power was taken away from you when you were abused," he said.

In a statement, Lavalla College principal, John Freeman, offered his "sincere apologies" to victims who were sexually abused at the former boys' school.

"This deeply saddens me and I once again offer my sincere apologies to any former student who attended this school who suffered abuse and a profound betrayal by the adults responsible for their care," Mr Freeman said.

"I know that the Marist Brothers, who are the governors of Lavalla Catholic College, have apologised unreservedly to those who have suffered great pain as a result of that breach of trust.

"Furthermore, they are fully committed to work to provide healing to those who have suffered abuse in Marist institutions.

[They] have also joined the National Redress System for People who have experienced Institutional Child Sexual abuse." A spokesman for The Marist Brothers' Province of Australia said they fully supported any person bringing forward complaints about historic matters of abuse and encouraged them to do so.

"We urge any person with any evidence of criminal conduct, no matter how long ago it occurred, to report that directly to the police so that the proper investigation can be conducted.

Reporting to the police of any knowledge or information about wrongdoing is essential for justice to be served," the spokesman said.

"The Marist Brothers also encourage any person who may have suffered abuse at any of our facilities to contact our professional standards office on (02) 9218 4000.

"Here our expert staff can provide assistance and facilitate support including the provision of professional counselling, personal apology and compensation."

The spokesman said Marist Brothers fully accepted some religious and lay people in their facilities committed abuse against children "and for that we are deeply sorry and unreserved in our apology."

"We are unable to change the past however we will continue to work to provide healing to those who have suffered abuse in our institutions."

Former students of St Paul's in Traralgon can contact Michael directly and confidentially by emailing will.waterside@outlook.com

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