Clerical sex abuse actions halted

Three actions for damages brought here against a Catholic Bishop in a representative capacity over the Church’s alleged failure to act to prevent paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth sexually abusing children have been halted by the Court of Appeal.

Clerical sex abuse actions halted

The three-judge court yesterday upheld a High Court decision stopping separate actions by a man, his sister, and a cousin against the Bishop of Kilmore, Dr Leo O’Reilly, as representative of the Kilmore diocese.

The three had also sued Cardinal Sean Brady in his personal capacity arising from his role as part-time secretary to former Bishop of Kilmore, Francis McKiernan, during a Church investigation in 1975 into complaints about Smyth.

While Cardinal Brady had not made a similar application to Bishop O’Reilly, legal sources suggest the judgment means he too cannot be pursued by the plaintiffs.

The three previously settled Northern Ireland court actions for £25,000 damages each arising from being sexually abused over years as children by Smyth, but claimed those settlements did not adequately compensate them.

They also said they were unaware of meetings which, they alleged, showed Catholic Church representatives were made aware of Smyth’s abuse in 1975 but failed to act to stop it. The knowledge of those meetings exacerbated their injuries, they said.

In proceedings initiated in 2012, they alleged negligence and breach of duty of care over failure by representatives of the Catholic Church over years to monitor and supervise Smyth and failure to stop his abuse or report it to the gardaí.

The man was abused by Smyth between 1968-76 and claimed he was unaware when settling his case in the North in in 1998 that Bishop McKiernan and Fr Brady were made aware in 1975 Smyth was abusing children, including the man, but failed to alert either gardaí or the man’s parents.

In opposing the application, Rossa Fanning, counsel for Bishop O’Reilly, produced media reports from October 1995 to the High Court which stated Bishop McKiernan had said he was aware in 1975 that Smyth was abusing children.

Yesterday, thecourt upheld the decision of Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns halting the cases, and expressed sympathy with the plaintiffs.

Mr Justice Michael Peart, giving the judgment, with which Ms Justice Mary Irvine and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan agreed, noted the “very tragic background” to the cases. With “great regret” because of the “sympathy and empathy” he had with the three “for obvious reasons”, the court must dismiss their appeals, he said.

The court welcomed Mr Fanning’s statement that the bishop was not seeking his costs of either the High Court or Appeal Court against the plaintiffs.

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