July 08, 2005

High price of broken trust

The Tablet

Elena Curti

After last week’s record award by the High Court of £650,000 to a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, many fear that the compensation claim floodgates will open in the UK as wide as they have in the United States

Somewhere in Northern Ireland lives a man whose mental state is so fragile that he cannot earn a living or care for himself. The man, known only as Mr A, lives in sheltered accommodation and suffers from schizophrenia. Last week the High Court in Manchester concluded that his condition was attributable to the sexual abuse he suffered from the age of seven as victim of a priest. The compensation he was given came to more than £600,000 – a record award against the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom.

Last week’s case was the first time such a claim against the Church was settled in the High Court, and the judgement is likely to have implications for the kind of awards payable in similar cases in future. In particular, it appears to be following a pattern established in the United States where the number of claimants and the sums awarded to them have climbed steadily. So far, three states haven’t been able to meet the sums required and have declared themselves bankrupt.

Meanwhile in Canada, St George’s Diocese in Newfoundland is selling property, appealing for donations and may have to close parishes to compensate 39 victims of a paedophile priest. The claimants were sexually assaulted by Fr Kevin Bennett. Bennett, a diocesan priest, was convicted of sexually assaulting dozens of boys, and last year the Supreme Court of Canada found St George’s both directly and vicariously liable for his actions.

Posted by kshaw at July 8, 2005 08:09 AM