Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese is paying an "unprecedented" cost for failing to stop serial paedophile priests over decades, with at least $13 million compensation to the victims of two child sex abusers and the certainty of further claims.
The diocese is believed to have paid more than $7 million to victims of John Sidney Denham in the past year, surpassing the $6 million it paid to victims of Vince Ryan.
The Ryan compensation was believed to be one of the highest total payouts by the church in Australia to the victims of a single priest.
The diocese has also paid an unknown amount, believed to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a small number of victims of serial child sex abuser Denis McAlinden since 2001, and another undisclosed but significant sum to a victim of convicted child sex abuser and Catholic lay teacher Tony Bambach.
In all four cases the church paid a greater financial penalty after proof it knew the priests and teacher were child sex abusers but failed to stop them.
Lawyers specialising in church abuse cases and the victims' rights group Broken Rites believe Maitland-Newcastle is possibly unique in Australia in the size of payments, because the church itself has been found liable as well as its priests.
"They [the Church] try to argue paedophile priests are a few bad apples, but in this case they're paying because it wasn't just the bad apple. The whole system was bad," a Newcastle victim of Denham said.
In three of the four cases: Denham, McAlinden and Bambach, the church faces more civil action from child sex victims and, in the case of Denham, further police investigations after "numerous" men made further statements to police after his conviction in July last year to 13 years and 10 months' jail.
"It is astounding that none of the criminal assaults were ever reported by the diocese to the police," solicitor John Ellis, who has represented victims of Denham and McAlinden, said.
Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW spokesman Dr Andrew Morrison, SC, said it was "a very great concern" how the church's representatives had been able to sexually assault children over decades in Maitland-Newcastle diocese, after their offending became known to senior clergy.
In all four cases there was proof that people were ignored, silenced or abused when they raised sexual assault complaints with church representatives, or the offenders were moved to other parishes or schools by the church without reporting to police.
Detective Sergeant Kristi Faber confirmed police were conducting further investigations after "numerous" men came forward after Denham was sentenced in July last year. People with information on the priest are asked to contact Charlestown police.
The diocese did not want to comment.