Abuse survivors in bid to seize Catholic properties after church fails to pay court costs as ordered

<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

Abuse survivors are attempting to seize Catholic church properties, including a Catholic order’s Sydney headquarters, to cover legal costs after their bills went unpaid, despite a court order.

Guardian Australia can reveal three survivors who settled with the Marist Brothers over historical child abuse claims have taken the drastic step of attempting to levy the Catholic church’s assets after a 28-day order to cover the legal costs lapsed without payment.

Marist was ordered to pay the legal costs of three survivors, known the courts as MM, MJ, and HG.

The Catholic order said there was “unfortunately” a delay in paying the bill, blaming the mistake on an unnamed “third party”. It said it was now attempting to make urgent payment to the survivors’ lawyers, Ken Cush and Associates.

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But the three survivors and their lawyers have already applied to seize Marist Brothers property.

In one case, that of MM, the New South Wales supreme court has already authorised the sheriff to levy a building on Coward Street, in the Sydney suburb of Mascot, which Marist uses as its headquarters. If Marist’s Sydney headquarters does not satisfy the debt, other properties owned by Marist can be similarly levied.

The three survivors had previously written to the Catholic order, warning of the missed payment deadline. The survivors then filed separate motions to the NSW supreme court last week, and the court authorised the sheriff to act late Monday in MM’s case.

MM said the public needed to be made aware that the church was using the money of church-goers to fight claims from survivors of clergy abuse.

“Marist Brothers are spending a fortune of their followers’ money making life hard for victims of child abuse, of multiple, pandemic-level paedophilia going on in the Marist Brothers. Look up the number of Marist Brothers [in the royal commission],” he said.

“I’m one of nine kids. There’s more than 20 years between us. It was in my oldest brother’s era, in my era, and in my younger brother’s era.”

MM is based in flood-ravaged Lismore. His house was inundated during the flooding disaster in the Northern Rivers earlier this year.

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“Marist Brothers’ victims in Lismore, most of us, we all had our houses flooded,” he said. “I was in my roof for hours.”

He said his lawyers have to withhold part of his settlement until Marist pays the legal costs. Meanwhile, he said the church was continuing to amass significant wealth.

“By the end of this phone call, some old boiler has probably dropped dead in NSW alone and has left [the church] their property, bequeathed their property which is worth millions.

“In the length of this phone call that we just had. And that’s a fact. It’s not bullshit … it’s truth.”

“Unfortunately, there was a delay in the costs phase of this matter involving a third party,” the spokesperson said.

“The Marist Brothers lawyers (Makinson d’Apice Lawyers) have contacted the plaintiff’s lawyers (Ken Kush & Associates) regarding this delay.”