A man whose psychiatric illness was caused by prolonged and horrific sexual abuse by his trusted parish priest launched a High Court damages action today.
The 34-year-old, one of seven children from a devout and successful Catholic family, suffers from both schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder and is unable to work.
Only identified as A for legal reasons, he is one of a number of individuals who allegedly suffered at the hands of Father Christopher Clonan, who served at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in Coundon, Coventry for 20 years.
He left his post of assistant parish priest in July 1992 and fled to Australia, where he died of natural causes in 1998.
In January last year, former altar boy Simon Grey received a £330,000 out-of-court settlement from the Archdiocese of Birmingham over similar claims.
Today, Robert Seabrook QC, who also represented Mr Grey, told Mr Justice Christopher Clarke in London that A sought compensation for the "most horrific sexual abuse" over a 10-year period between the ages of eight and 18.
"One can't underestimate the magnitude of the impact on this claimant's life when he was such a young man.
"One can't really overstate the trauma and assault on his personality at a critical time in his childhood development."
A had known Father Clonan since he was two and the priest became a dominant figure in his life and that of his family and community.
"He inveigled his way into their domestic and personal lives at every opportunity - weddings, christenings, confirmations, even hospital visits.
"At one stage, he visited A when he was in hospital for a night and was actually fondling him under his bedclothes as he came out of the anaesthetic."
A later told police: "I relied upon him heavily for virtually everything in my life."
The assaults, which went as far as buggery, happened several times a week on church and school premises.
Father Clonan took A to his holiday home in Northern Ireland and up to London to stay with his brother.
Mr Seabrook said: "This was the sort of energetic and apparently wonderful parish priest that was making such a contribution' to this parish."
He added: "It really is a catalogue ot the most appalling abuse which he seemed to get away with with apparent impunity."
Father Clonan was able to deploy "a great cloud of oppressive control".
Mr Seabrook said that from a child's perception, Father Clonan was in a quite unassailable position.
It was difficult enough for A's parents and, in 1999, they were driven to leave the parish and move to Northern Ireland.
Counsel said that during the period of abuse, A started wetting the bed and his behaviour and schoolwork deteriorated.
He left school without any A-levels on the encouragement of Father Clonan who got him into a hairdressing salon.
He developed a stammer but this stopped immediately when the truth finally came out in 1992.
After telling a girlfriend something of what had happened, he went into a steep psychiatric decline and tried to walk through a plate glass window.
"He has never been the same again.
"Having been a young man bounding with energy - bubbling over - he has become flat and profoundly mentally ill.
"And it is common ground that he suffers from a serious disabling mental condition which is attributable to that sexual abuse at the hands of this man - Father Clonan."
The Archbishop of Birmingham and the Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church admit that such sexual abuse as A suffered at Father Clonan's hands was contributed to by their negligence, but are contesting liability.
Mr Seabrook said that the Archbishop, the Rev Vincent Nichols, had made an apology last year to those affected by Father Clonan.
He added: "There is somewhat of a contrast between that generous apology and the rather sceptical and restricted approach to this litigation."
The hearing, which is not concerned with the amount of any damages at this stage, is expected to last five days.