We'd look at the growing the number of child abuse claims being made against the church

There can be nothing more terrifying for a child than to be abused by an adult in a position of trust. It is hard to imagine how damaging it must be for a child to be abused by an adult it has looked up to and respected. The child is likely to grow up fearing that other adults may act in that way, and suffering psychological damage that is long lasting and likely to continue well into adulthood.

This was the scenario for one boy who had been abused by his priest in the Catholic Church. He suffered in silence for many years and it was not until he was an adult that he felt able to come forward and tell me his story. Very sadly he was not alone and following his revelations it was discovered that his abuser had interfered with other young boys. Pursuing abuse compensation helped this victim of child abuse ensure that the priest who was responsible for these shocking acts was brought to justice and awarded a lengthy prison sentence for his offences. The sadness in this case, and so many others, is that the perpetrator had gone undetected for years and many young boys had suffered the pain and anguish of being abused before the priest was eventually uncovered as a child abuser.

In this case the Catholic Church were found to be vicariously liable for the actions of their priest. Vicarious liability is a legal concept that holds one party (in this case the church) legally liable for the actions of another party (the priest). When we investigated the child abuse claim, we quickly discovered that the priest had exhibited an unhealthy interest in boys and that the church was already aware of this. The priest had been sent away for rehabilitation prior to abusing our client, but this treatment had failed. Nonetheless, the priest was still permitted to hold office within the Catholic church unsupervised and he simply continued with his errant ways even after the church had tried to rehabilitate him.

The church was therefore held to be legally liable for the abuse suffered by our client as well as a number of boys who had also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the priest. Substantial sums of child abuse compensation were paid to all of these innocent victims.

People sometimes ask why the church is liable for the conduct of a third party in this situation. The relevant case is Lister v Helsey Hall [2001] which deals with situations where child abuse is carried out by someone who has control over the victim. Lister involved a warden of a boarding school who, some ten years on, was found guilty of sexually assaulting the boys who had boarded at the school. The boys successfully argued that the employer was vicariously liable for the child abuse as the warden’s sexual assaults were closely connected with his role at the school. The warden was responsible for ensuring the boys went to bed, attended school and engaged in evening activities. It was during these tasks that the warden committed his sexual offences.

An employer is therefore liable for acts which, although he has not authorised, are nonetheless closely connected with the required tasks of that job. Accordingly, in the case of my client’s child abuse claim, the Catholic Church were treated as an employer. Even though the church was not technically the employer of the priest, they were still held to be responsible for his actions and thus had to pay child abuse compensation to the priest’s victims.

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