The Catholic Church in Ballarat is being accused of breaking its own guidelines in its legal fight against a compensation claim from a victim of notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
The church released new guidelines for dealing with civil claims for child sexual abuse in November 2015, which it said would promote a more compassionate approach towards victims.
They state a claimant would not be required to prove the elements of an abuse case that the church authority had already accepted to be true.
But lawyer Paula Shelton said the Ballarat Diocese was challenging parts of her client's claim that were accepted by a court when Ridsdale was convicted of the abuse.
"What is very irritating and irking to our clients is that we have these bishops who show up ... at the royal commission and say they're going to treat these plaintiffs compassionately and this is what we get," lawyer Paula Shelton said.
Her client, John*, was seven years old when he was sexually abused by Ridsdale in 1980.
Ridsdale was convicted of the crimes in the Victorian County Court in 2014.
The Ballarat Diocese is now denying the circumstances of John's abuse, despite the fact they were accepted by the County Court when Ridsdale was sentenced.
'No moral compass'
John said the way the diocese responded to the claim felt like a continuation of the abuse he suffered as a child.
"The fact that they're now trying to wash their hands and walk away and go, 'Yeah we're going to minimise our losses around this and not accept responsibility', it's horrible," he said.
"I'm tired dealing with an organisation that seems to have no moral compass."
The bishops named in the proceedings are now dead and cannot be sued.
Instead, the current Bishop of Ballarat, Paul Bird, has named himself as a defendant on behalf of the Ballarat Diocese, in line with church guidelines.
Bishop Bird declined an interview.
In a statement, he rejected suggestions the diocese was not following the church guidelines, which were drawn up by the Truth, Justice and Healing Council (TJHC).
"If we are not able to resolve the claim through alternative dispute resolution and the claimant begins litigation, we seek to cooperate fully as indicated in the TJHC guidelines," he said.
"For example, we do not require a claimant to prove a matter which we know to be true or have accepted as true."
But Ms Shelton described the defences filed by the diocese as "another slap in the face for survivors".
"They deny the circumstances of the abuse ... in a circumstance where the offender has pleaded guilty," she said.
"It's an insult to our clients."
Bishops 'should have done more'
Evidence tendered to the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse indicated that by the time John was abused in 1980, both former bishops of Ballarat who oversaw Ridsdale, James O'Collins and Ronald Mulkearns, had received complaints that the priest had sexually abused children.
In a transcript of an interview with Catholic Church Insurance, Ridsdale said Bishop O'Collins was aware of a complaint during the paedophile's first year as a priest in 1962.
But the defence filed by the Ballarat Diocese in response to John's claim said Bishop O'Collins, who is now dead, was never aware of Ridsdale's offending.
John said both the former bishops did not take reasonable steps to ensure his safety, but instead moved Ridsdale from parish to parish.
But the Ballarat Diocese denied it failed to supervise Ridsdale adequately or take reasonable precautions to mitigate the risk he would sexually abuse other children.
Ms Shelton said she was disappointed by the diocese's response to the civil claim.
"Amongst other things, the diocese is denying they owe the plaintiffs a duty of care. They deny that they had control of Ridsdale," she said.
"Basically it's the gamut of technical defences that we would expect from commercial defendants."
The TJHC said it did not comment on individual cases.
* Name changed to protect privacy.