Catholic Church in Birmingham to pay out £32,500 to man abused by Coventry priest
The Roman Catholic Church in Birmingham has been ordered to pay £32,500 damages to a man who was abused by a priest in Coventry more than 30 years ago.
The man, 46, who can be identified only as Maga, said he was sexually abused by Father Christopher Clonan, who served at the Church of Christ the King in Coventry, over many months in about 1976.
Maga, who has learning difficulties and has never worked, only complained about the abuse in 2006, after he heard that another man had recovered compensation from the Catholic Church for abuse suffered from Fr Clonan, whose whereabouts are unknown.
His case against the Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, who denied liability, was brought on the basis that they were vicariously liable for the assaults on him and that they were negligent because a complaint allegedly made about Fr Clonan in 1974 was not followed up.
Last year Mr Justice Jack, at London’s High Court, said he was satisfied that the essence of Maga’s evidence was true and that sexual abuse occurred.
But he ruled that the assaults which Fr Clonan carried out on him were not so closely connected with his employment or quasi-employment by the Church that it would be fair and just to hold the Church liable.
He said that Fr Clonan’s association with Maga was founded on his use of the teenager to wash his car, do cleaning in the Presbytery and other houses and to iron his clothes.
“That employment was not a priestly activity. Fr Clonan did not do anything to draw the claimant into the activities of the Church.”
He said that if he had found in Maga’s favour, he would have awarded £17,500 general damages and £15,000 for lost earnings. But the Court of Appeal has allowed Maga’s appeal on vicarious liability and dismissed the Church’s cross-appeal.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lord Justice Longmore and Lady Justice Smith, said that, as Fr Clonan appeared to have been a “predatory sexual abuser of boys”, it was not unlikely that Maga’s evidence was true.
He said that Fr Clonan was a Roman Catholic priest and Maga was not a Roman Catholic and at no time had anything to do with the Church itself, other than doing some cleaning work.
To that extent, his case was weaker than a successful claimant who was a Roman Catholic who had worked as an altar server.
“However, there are a number of factors, which, when taken together, persuade me that there was a sufficiently close connection between Father Clonan’s employment as priest at the Church and the abuse which he inflicted on the claimant to render it fair and just to impose vicarious liability for the abuse on his employer, the Archdiocese.”