Why the Church Had to Be Held to Account Jan 12 2004
By Steve Chilton
Ic Coventry [Britain]
January 12, 2004
Four years ago Simon Grey read an article in the Evening Telegraph that was once more to change the direction of his turbulent life.
Today he is assured of financial security thanks to a record payout of £330,000 compensation for the effects of eight years of sexual abuse.
He had already found a degree of emotional stability with his wife Anna after years spent in prisons, alcohol dependency and periods of self-loathing which culminated in him setting fire to himself.
But when he read that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham had made an out-of-court settlement with another alleged victim of Coventry priest Christopher Clonan, he saw a way of ridding himself of the demons that still haunted his life.
At that point the police inquiry into Fr Clonan had foundered.
Simon Grey had first made his allegations to police in 1988 and repeated them in 1992 when up to seven other young men accused the assistant parish priest of Christ the King Church of abuse.
But the priest had fled the country in 1992 before he could be questioned. In 1999 - about seven years after he disappeared - there had been neither sight nor sign of him.
If the priest himself couldn't be brought to justice, Mr Grey reasoned that the Catholic Church in the shape of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, which covers Coventry, could be held to account.
It would be na've to believe that financial compensation wasn't a part of that retribution.
But his real driving force was to force the Church to accept moral responsibility for the actions of a priest who worked in a Coventry parish for 20 years.
He was prepared to shed his anonymity - the media is not allowed to identify sex abuse victims unless they give permission - to publicise his case.
He admitted that as a young man he had turned to crime, spent long periods in prison, become an alcoholic, and had injured himself.
At one time he had almost cut off an arm and, on another occasion, set himself alight.
These, he argued were a direct result of the self-loathing and psychiatric problems brought about by being sexually abused.
The breakthrough in his case against the Church came in May 2002 when in a preliminary High Court hearing he won the right to sue the Archbishop of Birmingham and the trustees of the diocese.
The Church had asked the court to reject the claim because Mr Grey had not begun his action within the necessary three-year time limit.
But John Leighton Williams, QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge, ruled that the Limitation Act did not apply because Mr Grey could not have been expected to know until recently that he could sue the Church for negligence.
During the hearing Robert Seabrook, QC, for Mr Grey, told the court his client became an altar boy at the age of 10.
Abuse took place on a weekly basis and had a "devastating effect" on his life and personality.
"He was subjected to appalling abuse. It emerged that he was one of a number of victims," Mr Seabrook said. "That abuse culminated or included the most serious end of the spectrum, all within a community culture of a devoted Roman Catholic family and parish."
Following the case, the Church had accepted liability but was to contest at a full hearing the degree to which the abuse had caused Mr Grey's problems in adult life.
Lawyers for the Church's insurers had been building a case to show that they weren't entirely the result of abuse and therefore the compensation sought - initially thought to be more than £650,000 - wasn't justified.
With only a week to go before the matter was settled in court they made an offer for about half that amount which was accepted by Mr Grey.
He feels that the preliminary hearing had to some extent led to the admission of liability which he sought.
He is aware too it has cleared the way for two further Coventry men, who claim they were seriously abused by the same priest, to sue.
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