Ex school chaplain and school ordered to pay €750,000 legal costs bill in abuse case

By Ann O'Loughlin

A former school chaplain and the second level school where he taught have been ordered to pay a substantial legal costs bill, estimated around €750,000, arising from a High Court judge's finding of sexual abuse by the chaplain of a female student.

The former priest and the school were previously ordered to pay €210,000 damages, including €10,000 aggravated damages to the student, now aged in her 20s.

During the 34-day High Court hearing, the woman gave evidence she was abused and subjected to sexualised behaviour by the man, a chaplain and teacher in her secondary school, between 2005-2007.

She said, during a school trip to Africa when she was aged 16, he invited her and another student to sleep in his bed with him. He first kissed her after she turned 17 and the sexual element between them progressed and they had oral sex about 35 times.

On a youth trip to see the Pope in Cologne, Germany, they had oral sex and also in the chaplain's school office, his bedroom, car and school oratory, she said.

In a judgment last October, Mr Justice Eagar said the former chaplain wrongfully physically and sexually assaulted and falsely imprisoned and sexually abused her - a transition year student when the abuse began in 2005. It continued until 2007.

On the balance of probabilities, he accepted she had proved her case and preferred her evidence to the chaplain's. Some undisputed evidence, including that the girl and chaplain shared a bed during a school trip to Africa, and some medical evidence, supported her case, he said.

He found the chaplain was liable for the abuse and the school was vicariously liable. The school's failure to adequately monitor the chaplain's behaviour had allowed an inappropriate relationship develop into an abusive relationship, he held.

Dismissing an additional vicarious liability claim against the local bishop, the judge said, because the man was not directly employed by the Roman Catholic Church in the school as chaplain and teacher, the bishop was not vicariously liable for the acts committed by the chaplain against the girl.

After his decision, there was a further hearing on liability for costs and, in a judgment on costs today, Mr Justice Eagar awarded costs to the woman against the man and the school.

He ruled the Bishop was entitled to costs against the woman as a result of the rejection of the claim of vicarious liability against him and ordered those costs should be paid out of the costs due to the woman from the former chaplain and the school.

Lawyers for the man and the school told the judge they consider there are substantial grounds of appeal against the judge's findings and the damages and costs orders and sought a stay on his orders pending appeal.

Lawyers for the Bishop said it was "noteworthy" there was no reference to any appeal being taken against the finding the Bishop was not vicariously liable and said their side should get their costs.

Jack Fitzgerald SC, for the woman, disputed there were substantial grounds of appeal, maintained the damages were not excessive, and opposed the stay application.

The judge refused to grant a stay on any of his orders pending appeal but indicated a stay could be sought from the Court of Appeal.

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