Catholic Church to pay £330,000 to former altar boy abused by priest

Independent Digital/January 13, 2004
By Robert Verkaik

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is to pay record damages of £330,000 to a former altar boy who was sexually abused by a priest who later fled to Australia.

Four more claims against the same priest are still to be heard by the courts but if successful they could leave the church facing a final compensation bill of £2m.

In an out-of-court settlement, to be approved by a judge today, Simon Grey, 38, a father of three, is expected to receive the compensation and more than £200,000 in legal costs.

Lawyers said the case was important because the church acknowledged for the first time that the abuse had caused such psychological damage to Mr Grey that he became an alcoholic and spent time in prison for violent behaviour.

The church has admitted liability for failing to take proper steps to protect children from Fr Clonan when he was practising as a priest in Coventry in the 1970s. Mr Grey told The Independent: "I have always tried to avoid making excuses for my behaviour but all the psychiatrists I have seen agree that it is a result of my abuse."

He said that the abuse took place in the church presbytery where Fr Christopher Clonan would ask altar boys to help him "robe up."

But by the early 1990s Mr Grey was struggling to come to terms with the abuse that took place over six years.

"I couldn't hold down a job," he said. "The longest one I ever had lasted for six months. In the end I set myself on fire, suffered full thickness burns, and spent another six months in hospital."

He added: "This case has not just been about compensation, it's also about all the other children who have suffered at the hands of that priest."

Mr Grey's solicitor, John Housden, said the Birmingham Archdiocese had accepted liability for breaching its duty of care to Mr Grey between 1975 and 1981 - after the Archdiocese was made aware of sex-abuse allegations.

The lawyer, of Clifton Ingram solicitors, based in Wokingham, said the firm was acting for four other clients in respect of Fr Clonan and three in relation to allegations against another priest previously employed in the West Midlands. Peter Jennings, the press secretary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, said: "We are pleased that a settlement has now been reached. We do not wish to add anything else at the present time."

During the three-year case, representatives of the Archdiocese are understood to have challenged the degree to which the abuse caused psychiatric and social problems that Mr Grey experienced in adult life.

A High Court trial was due to start on Monday when the issues of causation and damages were to be settled.

Fr Clonan fled abroad when the sex abuse accusations publicly surfaced in 1992 and was reported to have died of natural causes in Australia in 1998.

Mr Grey said: "This is closure for me but I hope that my case has raised the profile of this issue and that the church will deal with these cases in a different fashion. I know of people who still have drug and alcohol problems because of the abuse they suffered."

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