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The Catholic Church has vastly understated the value of its multi-billion-dollar property portfolio, amid claims it cannot afford to pay compensation to abuse victims, according to an investigation of its assets.
An investigation by Fairfax Media published on Monday found that the church owns more than $30 billion in property and other assets across Australia.
Fairfax estimated the church’s total wealth in Victoria alone to be about $9 billion, almost 82 times larger than the the $109 million it revealed to the royal commission in 2014 as the estimated value of its Victorian property portfolio.
The investigation makes the church Victoria’s largest non-government property owner, casting serious doubt over its claims that it would be forced to cut back on social work if forced to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The reported wealth of the church also contrasts with findings by the royal commission, which found the average payout by the church’s compensation scheme established by former archbishop George Pell 20 years ago was $35,000 or less for those who had been abused by clergy.
“These figures confirm what we have known; there is huge inequity between the Catholic Church’s wealth and their responses to survivors,” Helen Last, chief executive of the In Good Faith Foundation, which supports abuse survivors told Fairfax.
“The 600 survivors registered for our foundation’s services continue to experience minimal compensation and lack of comprehensive care in relation to their church abuses. They say their needs are the lowest of church priorities.”
The report analysed council records across Melbourne of the church’s property assets, establishing a total property portfolio of $ 7 billion.
It then used that data to extrapolate a “conservative estimate of $30 billion in Catholic-owned property and other assets across Australia”.
The report also revealed the church’s extensive non-property assets such as Catholic Church Insurance and even its own internal banks, known as Catholic Development Funds, “which have total assets of several billion dollars, including more than $1 billion in Melbourne”, according to Fairfax.
It also detailed other investments, such as in superannuation and telecommunications, with the paper citing a church-owned funds manager with more than $1.4 billion under management.
The report said the findings called into question not only the church’s ability to adequately compensate victims, but also the privileges it enjoys, “including billions of dollars in government funding each year to run services, exemptions from almost all forms of taxation”.
Under the Towards Healing national compensation system set up by the church in 1996, redress payments to abuse survivors have averaged just $49,000.
The government is rolling out a redress scheme for survivors from July 1, 2018, fulfilling a key recommendation of the child abuse royal commission.