Some victims in other states have received hundred-fold increases in payouts after judges set aside their deed of settlement with the church.
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy will decide if Victoria follows Western Australia and Queensland, where courts can set aside a deed of settlement if it is found to be unjust or unreasonable.
A spokeswoman for Ms Hennessy confirmed the state government was considering ways to ensure abuse survivors were not disadvantaged because they had joined the Melbourne Response.
«We are looking at a range of options to ensure survivors of institutional child sex abuse are not left worse off as a result of their participation in institutional forums such as the Melbourne Response and will have more to say soon,» she said.
Several Melbourne law firms have been briefed by dozens of victims seeking to challenge the validity of church settlements on the basis that payments were manifestly inadequate for the long-term suffering inflicted by paedophile priests.
Under the Melbourne Response, more than 320 victims received an average payout of $36,100.
Lawyers will also argue that some previous deeds of release, which prevented survivors from taking legal action, should be scrapped when the church, by concealing its knowledge of serial abusers, had not acted in good faith.
The integrity of the Melbourne Response is further diminished by the fact it was introduced by Pell in 1996, about the same time he sexually assaulted two 13-year-old choirboys.
Rightside Legal partner Michael Magazanik is acting on behalf of several clerical abuse victims who will challenge their settlements.
Mr Magazanik said the conviction of Pell would not change the legal framework, but could pressure the Victorian government to introduce legislative amendments to help victims.
«It’s a scheme dreamt up by a convicted child abuser which allowed the church to short-change and demean sex abuse survivors. Under Pell’s scheme the Church stripped abuse survivors of their legal rights usually in return for a pittance,» he said.
Mr Magazanik said the District Court of Western Australia had already set aside more than 30 deeds signed by victims of the Christian Brothers order.
That paved the way for a $1 million settlement to 74-year-old victim Paul Bradshaw, who originally received a $10,000 settlement in the 1990s. He died of prostate cancer in October last year, just months after receiving the revised settlement.
Some of those planning to launch civil action against the church are victims of notorious paedophiles such as Brother Edward Dowlan, also a Christian Brother. He was banished from St Patrick’s College in Ballarat in 1974 for abusing boys and went on to assault children at four other schools over 14 years.
Several victims of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale are also mounting legal cases against the Ballarat Archdiocese over his appalling offending at St Alipius Primary School for more than two decades.
Melbourne lawyer Kim Price, from Arnold Thomas & Becker, confirmed he was also acting for victims of clerical abuse who entered into settlements with the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
«We believe there is a strong argument that settlements orchestrated by Pell’s Melbourne Response are void on the basis they were not negotiated in good faith.
«But we urge the Victorian government to grant powers to the courts, as other states have, to set aside settlements made through schemes such as Pell’s Melbourne Response,» Mr Price said.
On Wednesday, Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli admitted the church had engaged in cover-ups and obfuscation in its dealings with victims.
But during an interview with ABC Melbourne, he also argued against immediately dismantling the Melbourne Response, even though most would pursue compensation through a national redress scheme, saying he wanted to keep its pastoral care arm, Carelink, to support victims.
In 2016, then Archbishop Denis Hart pledged to double potential compensation payments to $150,000, but back-tracked on a promise to publicly release an independent review into its controversial Melbourne response victim compensation scheme.
Archbishop Hart defended the decision to withhold the report, saying it was being done in the interest of victims.
«We’re doing it because we want to cause the least disturbance to the people who have suffered,» he said.
Senior Crime Reporter
Benjamin is a state political reporter