Woman awarded €210,000 over abuse by school chaplain

Judge commends bravery of woman for taking case over her abuse as a schoolgirl

A woman who was sexually abused by a school chaplain, who was also her teacher, while she was a pupil at a secondary school has been awarded €210,000 damages by the High Court.

On Monday, Mr Justice Robert Eagar commended the bravery of the woman in bringing her claim. His award against the former chaplain and the school, located in the southeast, included €10,000 in aggravated damages.

The judge said the case turned largely on the court’s assessment of the accuracy and truthfulness of the witnesses, and the woman’s evidence was coherent, consistent and credible.

He also accepted her evidence that the reason she found it difficult to report the abuse to the authorities until a year after she disclosed the abuse to her family was because she felt no one would believe her.


The former chaplain’s claim that the woman brought the case out of a “lust for revenge” for him refusing to “go with her” or have sex with her was “wholly unconvincing”, the judge said.

The judge found the evidence of independent witnesses on behalf of the woman to be cogent and convincing, while the evidence to the court of the former chaplain was “inconsistent”.

He said the woman, following her disclosures to the school of the abuse, was subjected to the man denying any sexualised conduct had occurred between them. The man had also filed a counter-claim alleging her account was malicious lies.

She was challenged on her evidence by counsel for the man and the school and repeatedly accused of not telling the truth, the judge said.

The judge found the former chaplain wrongfully physically and sexually assaulted, falsely imprisoned and sexually abused the woman, who was a transition-year student when the abuse began in 2005. It continued until 2007.

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


The woman was groomed by the defendant, the judge said.

The grooming consisted of sexualised behaviour and the judge said he accepted the woman’s evidence that her relationship with the chaplain developed into a sexual relationship whilst at all material times she was a schoolgirl.

The mental trauma suffered by the woman was not confined solely to the acts of assault and false imprisonment, but also from the consequences of breach of trust by a man who played such an important role in her schooling and local community, the judge said.

During the case, the woman said that on a school trip to Gambia when she was 16 years old, the chaplain invited her and another student to sleep in his bed with him.

He first kissed her after she turned 17. The sexual element between them progressed and they had oral sex about 35 times.

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

She had sued the chaplain, the school and the local bishop.

The judge found the chaplain was liable for the abuse and the school vicariously liable on grounds that its failure to adequately monitor his behaviour allowed an inappropriate relationship to develop into an abusive relationship.

The judge found, on the balance of probabilities, the woman’s injuries would not have occurred but for the negligence of the school and it should have foreseen that the intimacy and privacy of the chaplain’s role had the potential to create risk for students.

“There is no evidence of any system of checks being put in place to monitor the behaviour of the chaplain,” he said.

Dismissing the vicarious liability claim against the bishop, the judge said that, because the man was not directly employed by the 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.