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Court rules that diocese and congregation share liability for abuse

By on Wednesday, 21 November 2012

London's Supreme Court, set up in 2009

London's Supreme Court, set up in 2009

A religious congregation which provided teachers to an East Yorkshire residential school can be held liable for the sex abuse which took place there, the Supreme Court has ruled.

St William’s, a school at Market Weighton, near Hull, was closed in 1994 after the headmaster, Brother James Carragher, was accused, and later convicted, of sexual offences against boys over 20 years.

Nearly 200 men who say they were abused by Brothers at the school are claiming £8 million in damages from the school’s managers and the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known as the De La Salle Brothers, which provided the teachers.

Defending the action, the congregation claimed it could not be held vicariously liable for the actions of the teaching Brothers.

But overturning High Court and Court of Appeal rulings in its favour, the Supreme Court said the congregation could share liability with the Diocese of Middlesbrough which owned and managed the school.

The relationship between the teaching Brothers and the congregation had all of the essential elements of that between employees and an employer, the court said.

Teaching took place on the direction of the congregation, was in furtherance of the 340-year-old congregation’s mission and the manner of teaching was dictated by its rules.

The fact that the Brothers were bound to the congregation by their vows, rather than a contract, and transferred all earnings to the congregation made no material difference. The court said: “In this case the institute placed the Brothers in teaching positions and in particular the position of headmaster, responsible for running the school.

“The boys living on the premises were particularly vulnerable, not just as children in a school but because they were virtually prisoners and would have difficulty making credible allegations of abuse because of their personal histories…

“This was not a borderline case and it was fair, just and reasonable for the institute to share vicarious liability in this case.”

Compensation claims by victims of abuse at the school can now be examined in court.

Brother Aidan Kilty, Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers, said they accepted the court’s decision.

“This has been a complex legal case which had to be settled by the courts. The De La Salle Brothers always maintained that it did not manage St William’s School and this was upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

“As we have previously stated, we deeply regret what happened at St William’s and the harm that was done there through the behaviour of James Carragher… We totally condemn, without reservation, any action or behaviour which harms young people.”

A statement from the Diocese of Middlesbrough said: “We appealed this case in the belief that there was an important principle of justice at stake: that those who ran St William’s on a day-to-day basis at the time the alleged abuse took place should share the burden of compensating its victims.

“The Supreme Court has agreed, unanimously overturning the decisions of the lower courts, and ruling that the De La Salle Brothers should share liability for abuse proved to have been perpetrated by members of their Order at St William’s.

“We are also pleased that, now that the question of who is legally liable for the historic abuse at St William’s has been decided, the individual claims for compensation can begin to be examined by the courts.”

  • George

    Simple solution: stop accepting perverts into the seminaries. Have clear and enforceable standards for seminarians; have thorough psychological screenings and return to the concept of priest as a strong warrior for the faith rather than a wimpy social worker. If the nature of the position is returned to its former greatness than better candidates will appear. As long as priests are presented as weak and feminized then weak- charactered candidates will be the ones applying.

  • It says there look

    Oh dear, another drain on the church resources.  Where can all this money possibly be coming from?

  • Nat_ons

    Oddly enough, I find this a much more reasonable ‘settlement’ of the liability issue than either diocese alone or order alone. Both clearly had – and still have – moral obligations to priest and people, and it is these (not employment legislation) that the lawful demand for retribution (or ‘compensation’ in modern parlance) can be placed. Sadly, the legal system tries to squeeze all of this confused (and bewildering) feudal obligation .. in good faith etc .. into a narrowly defined employment box; for, in this case, the employer would involve Her Majesty – via the Social Services Board/ Authority/ Team or whatever; after all State funding of charity run institutions requires accountablity on the part of Regina for the welfare of those whose care she funds – in schools, orphanages, hospitals etc.
    “Throughout its history, changes in Local Authority practices have been particularly significant in shaping the ways in which the work has developed and prompting reflection on the agency’s purpose. As the Lancashire Diocesan Protection and Rescue Society noted in 1965, ‘The aim of a voluntary organisation should not be to compete with statutory provision. Unless it can provide something better or at least more acceptable it should move into other fields.’ History shows the society succeeding in doing both, by building its reputation and expertise in caring for children and diversifying its activities to provide adult and community services.” Catholic Caring Services in Lancaster Diocese; A Very Brief History.
    Clearly the State and its supervision of charitable – and even State run – services has been woefully neglectful .. if not criminally negligent. To understand this better, I would suggest those interested should review the Frank Beck debacle – from the 1990’s. Not only the common practice of hands-off or once-over inspection and the seemingly light-hearted treatment of accusations of abuse, but also for the context of its invesigation and exposure (even if in the charitable care sector of State Services).
    “We are, in short, in the
    midst of a witch-hunt of unprecedented intensity. If most people remain unaware
    of this, it is largely because the watchdogs of our freedom and our liberty, the
    British press and the British media, have themselves been partly responsible for
    launching the witch-hunt, and sustaining and increasing its intensity over the
    past five years.” Crusdae or Witch-hunt, Times Literary Supplement, 22 January 1999.


  • Mlord10

    I am delighted that the de Salle brotherhood has finally been called to account for it’s actions. I hope now that all perpetrators of these crimes against young boys will be found and justice will be done. 

  • Caroline

    Priests and others who have abused  boys and teenage boys (in most cases!) are to be held responsible, through the criminal courts and, after a fair trial and if found guilty, sentenced to prison.
    Pope Benedict was of course right when he , many years ago, ordered that nobody with a homosexual inclination should be admitted to the seminars. Note, that he did not say a “practising homosexual”, but tha anyone with this inclination( in itself) should be considered unappropriate for the priestly seminary.
    In an interview with Peter Seewald, the pope mentions that a homosexual inclination would be too dangerous and risky. How many bishops, priests and laiety, listened to those wise words? Today, several years after the Tsunami of homosexual scandals in the Church in Europe and in the US (even more!), the horror of the sex abuse comitted by homosexual priests and others towards innocent boys and (mostly) young teenagers, are staring us in the face.
    While the pope, as always, is perfectly clear and knows the horrible truth, a truth he never hesitated in telling all the world, we hear not so few catholics in our parish,as well as in other parishes, openly discharging the bause scandals by saying that “I think the teenage boys made a pass at the priest(s), or”They are only after money”, or “It’s the Jews behind it all, they want to take down the Church”.
    We are extremely disgusted by comments like these! Remember, that the Chatechism strongly condemns anti semitism (don’t you dare calling it sth else!!), as did Pope John Paus II, who saw the horrors and the extermination of the Jews, many of them his own school mates, with his own eyes.
    Pope Benedict has likewise repeteadly condemned any kind of anti semitism . Dr Scott Hahn labels anti semitism “stupid” in one of his books. And to blame the victims is, altogether, absurd. Yes, there have been a few cases where a priest was falsely accused, which is absolutely horrendous, but the simple truth is that in most cases sexual abuse, as well as other types of abuse, DID take place.
    In one of the most intellectual catholic magazines of the world, a Jesuit wrote that pope Benedict wil be remembered in history as the first pope who REALLY tried to tell the world the truth about these (mainly homosexual) scandals and who REALLY did everything possible to root out the foundation for further scandals. I can only find words of praise, admiration and love for our pope.I pray for him every day and I do hope that he feels how much he is loved, by so many, all over the world.
    By the way, today I just read that an overwhelming majority of homosexuals(not surprisingly) voted for Obama and that they played a very important role in Obama’s reelection. as did millions of “catholics”, sorry, I mean of course “Pagan catholics”, an expression I heard George Weigel utter, on the EWTN(a great network!), after the election.
    I would further recommend an excellent article by Fr Rutler(google!), where he is meditating on these so called “catholics” who took pride and graet joy in voting for Obama and his intrinsically evil policies on abortion, same sex “marriage” . These “catholics” have contributed to the destruction and gradual elimination of religious freedom and have helped Obama and his “catholic” colleagues to attack and weaken the Church.

  • Alba

    Yes, but in this case, apparently, the people concerned were “Brothers”, not priests, so I suppose did not attend seminary?

  • Kevin

    [Teaching] was in furtherance of the 340-year-old congregation’s mission

    It seems highly unlikely that the House of Lords would have been in a position to judge that fact.

    Most Catholics would need proof beyond reasonable doubt that the teaching at any Catholic school is in furtherance of a mission that is older than fifty years.

  • Freyalfammercci

    Hi Kevin

    I don’t really understand what you mean…could you explain what you mean by ‘…any Catholic school is in furthernace of a mission that is older than fifty years’?

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal


    All types of funny, foolish, immoral and insecure fellows are promoted as servants and caretakers and these end up as undertakers!

    LET US HOPE in the long run the leaders in the Church will become APOSTLES by repenting, and believing the WORD of Christ the Lord. In HIM there is hope.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    THE CHURCH losing its worldly power will make it more authentic at the service of Christ the LORD.

  • Jon Brownridge

     There are many reasons why a good Catholic would have voted for the Democratic Party rather than for the Republicans. Are you suggesting that a “good” catholic should have voted for Romney’s policies – abandoning the poor and destitute, waging unnecessary wars around the globe, the relegation of women to second-class citizens, promotion of a selfish, materialistic life style, complete disregard for the protection of the environment including the wholesale pollution of our lakes and rivers, … I suspect that if Jesus had been voting, He would have voted for Obama, even if he does include gay people in the human family.

  • Hlmcentre

    Celibacy forced upon people by the religious monasticism is responsible for such attrocities. Whom the church is trying to convince? People or God? Collective monasticism is already outdated.

  • Hlmcentre

    What you mean by psychological screenings in regard to choosing candidates? Man is man in whatever disguise. present day recruitings liken to the recruitment to army etc.Study the bible and see what is discipleship of Jesus christ! The catholic church must rethink about seminary trainings.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Nothing is forced on anyone. Religious life is freely chosen by those who are accepted into religious Orders. Long periods of time in temporary vows allow individuals to decide if they are suited to religious life. Many decide to leave or are counseled out before their perpetual profession. It is ludicrous to say that celibacy is forced on anyone. Perpetrators of sexual abuse should have been properly monitored and someone should have known they were unsuitable long before these things happened.

  • Jon Brownridge

     These incidents of abuse are not current. Some go back as far as the 1950s. The Orders of Teaching Brothers (de la Salle, Irish Christian, La Mennais, etc.) have been totally decimated, and barely exist in Europe and North America with only a handful of elderly members. The perpetrators you refer to either died long ago or disappeared into the world.

  • Chetwode

    Read this please Caroline.
    You’ll see that it is totally incorrect to equate child molestation/paedophilia with homosexuality.  It is a sad fact that the majority of offenders are men and the majority of victims are male.  In institutional situations such as boys’ schools and prisons the incidence of male on male abuse is higher because sexual offences are possible, but it does not mean that the perpetrators are homosexual.
    You rightly state that the CCC strongly condemns anti-Semitism.  It also condemns unjust discrimination against homosexuals – you can’t have it both ways.

  • Eamon

     I went to that site you advised and read it. I disagree with the article as it is written to play down any link with homosexuality. Today, homosexuality has taken on a different view due to pressure by certain groups and those who believe being PC is the in thing. These cases of abuse took place when homosexuality was a crime and most who had that inclination kept it very quiet. The article doesn’t take this into account and relies on quoted figures where available. I worked with homosexuals and nobody ever asked me how working with them could affect my life. Some were extremely dangerous and management knew this but nothing was done about it. One had to look out for one’s self. I am 74 years of age so don’t give me a picture of some lovely scene of being around homosexuals before homosexuality was legalised . They don’t have to find an occupation now where they can hide their tendency. In my youth going to a public toilet in London was a dangerous place.

  • Joe Zammit

    My present word is just a help to avoid such abuses:

    One does not start abusing others right from the start. First, impure thoughts crop up in one’s mind. If one loves Jesus indeed, by God’s grace, one will remove all impure thoughts from his mind. When one starts accepting impure thoughts, one takes another step: masturbation, thus passing from transgressing the Ninth Commandment to breaking the Sixth one.

    The next step: one starts living in sin, receiving Holy Communion in sin, etc. The devil tries to enslave one more, by suggesting to them the horrible idea of touching others, especially those most vulnerable like children, handicapped, etc. The devil convinces one that one will never be discovered. “I have been successful,” one thinks. So, the next step is to abuse others, and others, …. until one is so deep in a habitual sinful life of sexual abuses that sooner or later one is discovered.

    That’s why God did not give us only the Sixth Commandment but also the Ninth Commandment. Successful indeed are those who discard the sinful thought and desire as soon as they crop in mind. 

    Pure minds produce pure actions; impure minds produce impure actions.

    By God’s all-powerful grace we can win all temptations always, immediately and easily.  

  • Joe Zammit

    The great majority of child sex abuse is committed by men, single or married, who are not priests, so they are not celibate!

  • Hlmcentre

     Making aware of sin and making guilty conscious is not the solution for the problem. Teaching  must be how to enable oneself to overcome.