Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Church held liable for Clonan sex abuse in Coventry

Christopher Clonan
Clonan is thought to have died in Australia in 1998 while on the run

The Catholic Church is to pay £32,500 to a man who suffered sexual abuse by a priest more than 30 years ago.

The Court of Appeal has overturned a previous ruling that the church was not liable for the abuse endured at the hands of Fr Christopher Clonan.

The abuse took place as the boy carried out tasks for Clonan at Coventry's Church of Christ the King. Police believe Clonan died in 1998.

The Archdiocese of Birmingham said it was taking further legal advice.

The appeal court ruled it was fair to impose liability on to the church.

The boy, now 46 and identified only as Maga, said he was sexually abused by Clonan over many months in 1976.

He was not a church-goer but would wash Clonan's car, do cleaning and ironed his clothes.

Close connection

Last year, Mr Justice Jack, said in the High Court he was satisfied Maga's evidence was true but the church was not liable as the assaults were not so closely connected with his employment by the church that it would be fair to hold the church liable.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lord Justice Longmore and Lady Justice Smith in the Appeal Court, said to some extent Maga's case was weaker than a previously successful claimant who had worked as an altar boy.

"However, there are a number of factors, which, when taken together, persuade me that there was sufficiently close connection between Fr 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 of the abuse on his employer, the Archdiocese," he said.

The court heard Maga has learning difficulties and has never worked.

He sought legal action in 2006 after learning another man who was abused by Clonan had recovered damages from the Catholic Church.

Church 'may appeal'

Clonan is believed to have died in Australia in 1998. He was on the run from British police at the time.

He has cost the Catholic Church about £1m in compensation payments.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, Clonan's employers at the time, said: "This case involves complex and fundamental legal issues which have not been the subject of previous judicial authority.

"The Archdiocese of Birmingham is currently taking further legal advice and, as this may yet be the subject of an appeal, it would not be appropriate to make any detailed comments at this stage.

"The Archdiocese of Birmingham would, however, like to make it absolutely clear that at no point was liability denied simply on the basis that the claimant was not a Catholic."

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