No Payout for Alleged Sex Abuse Victim - As He's Not Catholic

Coventry Telegraph
March 20, 2009

A MAN who claims he was abused as a child by a paedophile priest in Coventry shouldn’t get a penny in compensation because he’s not Catholic, London’s High Court has been told.

The 45-year-old, named only as M to protect his identity, alleges he was subjected to serious sex assaults by Fr Christopher Clonan during the 1970s.

The priest fled to Australia amid growing allegations about his conduct in 1992.

He had been assistant parish priest in Coventry for 20 years, earning the nickname Father Fix-it for his building skills and overseeing construction of church buildings.

He died in 1998, after living a secret life on the run in Australia.

Other young men who were abused by him as boys have since received damages - including a record ?330,000 payout to one former altar boy - from the Catholic Church diocese which covers Coventry and Warwickshire.

It is believed the diocese has paid out a total of ?750,000 to Clonan’s victims so far. Now M is seeking a six-figure compensation package through a hearing at London’s High Court.

But the Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, which is defending the claim, deny he was abused.

And their legal team, headed by barrister Edward Faulks QC, insist that, even if he was indecently assaulted, he isn’t entitled to any money because he was not a Catholic and the church did not owe him a “duty of care”.

But M’s barrister, Elizabeth Anne Gumbel QC, said that it was part of Father Clonan’s duties to reach out to non-Catholics and try to convert them.

And she argued it was “clear that his sexual abuse of M was sufficiently closely connected with his duties for the church to be vicariously liable for his assaults”.

“Father Clonan’s torts (civil liabilities) were so connected with his tasks as a priest that it can be said the church have introduced the risk of the wrong being perpetrated,” said the barrister, adding that M had held the priest in high esteem.

The court heard that M grew up in Coventry and attended a community project at Christ the King Church, in Westhill Road, Coundon, which was run by Fr Clonan.

Mrs Gumbel said: “He was befriended by Father Clonan and began performing odd jobs for him at and around the Church and elsewhere, for which he was paid.

“On many occasions M was seriously sexually abused and assaulted by Father Clonan.

“The church is vicariously liable for Father Clonan’s assaults and liable to M for their own negligence in allowing the assaults to occur.”

Ms Gumbel said that, despite the learning difficulties suffered by M, his core allegations about the alleged abuse had been made “consistently and with conviction”.

The QC alleged that Fr Clonan’s superior at Christ the King, the late Father McTernan, had been informed in the early 1970s that Fr Clonan had abused another boy, and “this information was not acted upon, sufficiently or at all”.

“Had it been, Father Clonan would have been prevented from continuing in his role and reported to the police,” said the barrister.

The church denies it was given any information about Fr Clonan, and Mr Faulks is also arguing that M’s claim is “time barred” because it has been brought outside the strict time limits which govern such cases.

Miss Gumbel says that, because of M’s disabilities, the case cannot be dismissed for reasons of delay. She also argued that M did not become aware of the church’s possible liability until October 2003, when he saw a TV programme about Fr Clonan.

M is seeking around ?250,000, which includes sums for loss of earnings, both past and future, and costs of the administration of any award he receives. He is also seeking additional damages for general pain and suffering.

The hearing continues.

Press secretary for the Archdiocese of Birmingham Peter Jennings said: “While the court hearing continues the Archdiocese of Birmingham will not be offering any comment about this case.”


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