New Christian Brother leader adopts same legal strategy in abuse case, court hears

Judge rules that more than 100 surviving defendants should be served with papers in absence of nominee for the order

The recently appointed head of the Christian Brothers is adopting the same policy in relation to a sex abuse case as his predecessor, the High Court was told on Friday.

On Monday Mr Justice Tony O’Connor ordered that Brother David Gibson or his legal representative to appear before him to give his views in a case where a man is seeking damages arising from sex abuse by a member of the order.

The High Court was told in 2021 that the then head of the Christian Brothers, Brother Edmund Garvey, was not prepared to act as a nominee for the order for the purpose of the civil proceedings.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that unincorporated associations such as religious orders cannot be sued directly and that cases must be taken against the members of the order at the time of the alleged wrongdoing. Orders can select someone to act as its nominee if it chooses to do so, but the Christian Brothers has opted not to do so.


Brother Garvey was replaced as provincial leader of the Christian Brothers in October, the court was told on Monday. Mr Justice O’Connor then ordered that the new leader, Brother Gibson, appear before him.

On Friday morning Karl Finnegan, for Brother Gibson, said his client’s position was the same as that adopted by Brother Garvey. He said he was in court representing Brother Gibson in his personal capacity and not has a representative of the order.

“There hasn’t been a change in tactics,” said Andrew Nugent, for the plaintiff. Brother Gibson “is adopting the same approach and he is entitled to do that”.

The plaintiff’s case was initiated four years ago. Two years ago the High Court directed the order to supply the plaintiff with the names of the members who were still alive and who were members of the order between particular dates, so they could be added as defendants.

The plaintiff was supplied with a list of 118 names and addresses. It has taken up to Monday of last week for the application to be heard to add the 118 names to the list of defendants in the case, Mr Nugent said.

Since Monday the plaintiff has been supplied with an updated list, which shows that 14 of the brothers on the original list have since died, and 45 have new addresses, Mr Nugent said.

Mr Justice O’Connor said he had wanted to offer an opportunity to the new provincial leader to appear before him in part because many of the members of the order may be elderly and “getting a letter by registered post may cause some concern”.

Mr Nugent said his solicitors, Coleman Legal, had received correspondence during the week offering settlement talks and suggesting the case be adjourned. He said the plaintiff had “some scepticism” in relation to the settlement proposal.

Mr Finnegan said the court had no jurisdiction to appoint Brother Gibson as an “agent” on behalf of the other defendants and that a plaintiff must try serve defendants directly with notice of proceedings before a judge can allow for substituted service.

Mr Justice O’Connor ruled that the surviving defendants in the case should be served with papers by registered post. If there were any difficulties in relation to service for any of those on the list, Mr Nugent could make an ex parte application on May 2nd next.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent