Man awarded €315,000 over sex abuse by Marist Brother

Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill rejects denials of abuse at Sligo school between 1969 and 1972

A man has been awarded €315,000 damages over being “systematically” sexually abused between 1969 and 1972 by a former Marist Brother while a pupil at St John’s National School in Sligo. Photograph: Reuters

A man has been awarded €315,000 damages over being “systematically” sexually abused between 1969 and 1972 by a former Marist Brother while a pupil at St John’s National School in Sligo. Photograph: Reuters


A man has been awarded €315,000 damages at the High Court over being “systematically” sexually abused by a Marist Brother over three years while he was a pupil at St John’s National School in Sligo.

Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill said he “entirely rejected” the denials by former Br Christopher Cosgrove, with an address at Claremorris, Co Mayo, of having sexually abused the man, now aged in his 50s, at the school between 1969 and 1972.

The judge also ruled the Marist Order was vicariously liable for the acts of Br Cosgrove and that the then school manager, the late Canon Collins had, in his capacity as manager, a 10 per cent liability.

Because Canon Collins had not been sued, and cannot now be sued due to legal time limits, the judge said he must reduce the €350,000 total damages to reflect that 10 per liability, with the effect the plaintiff will get €315,000.

The case involved “recovered memory” of sexual abuse and the judge accepted the man had given a careful, reflective and truthful account of his rediscovery of memory of the abuse between 1999 and 2010.

That conclusion was relatively easily arrived at given the “unusual, if not extraordinary”, amount of evidence from four men, former classmates of the man, corroborating the entire content of the man’s recovered memories.

One of those men had described reaching “a point of unbearable revulsion” after seeing the plaintiff held on Br Cosgrove’s knee for most of a day, with the boy “weeping inconsolably” while his genitalia were fondled through the open front of his trousers, the judge noted.

There could be no doubt but that the content of the plaintiff’s recovered memory was “accurate” and “comprehensive”, but the fact the memories of the abuse were so totally suppressed for some 30 years “said much about its impact” on him.

On the basis of all the evidence, the judge found the plaintiff, as a result of the abuse, suffered severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder characterised initially by “extreme avoidance”. He had no settled career and no settled home life and the abuse had “greatly impaired” his life.

Earlier, the judge noted the plaintiff had no memory of the abuse when initially contacted by gardaí in 1999 about investigations into issues raised by other pupils of Br Cosgrove’s. The plaintiff later spontaneously recalled, without any therapeutic or other process, memories which he had suppressed or blocked out for decades, and this recall helped him address other difficulties, the judge found.

The plaintiff had alleged the abuse occurred in the classroom, and when the brother was teaching him to play drums for the school band.

He told the court Br Cosgrove fondled and digitally abused him both inside and outside his clothing, and he felt powerless to stop him. Sometimes the brother would put his trousers belt around both of them, with the effect he was restrained close to the brother, he said.

The judge found the evidence of the plaintiff and the other four men was “truthful and reliable”, and he described Br Cosgrove’s claim their evidence was part of a conspiracy to get damages as “utterly lacking in credibility”.

Addressing the issue of the Marist Order’s liability, the judge said, for the purposes of this case, the Marist congregation was to be treated as a corporate body with the effect the liability of individual members of it, whether dead or alive, cannot come within the terms of Section 35 of the Civil Liability Act.

Section 35 states, for the purpose of contributory negligence, that, where a plaintiff’s damage was caused by concurrent wrongdoers but the plaintiff’s claim against one of those is statute-barred, the plaintiff shall be liable for the acts of that wrongdoer.

On the issue of the school manager’s liability, the judge found Canon Collins probably had no role at the relevant time in relation to the day-to-day management of the school, as Br Cosgrove’s teaching activities were supervised by his congregation.

The school manager, however, retained residual legal authority over the contractual arrangements between the manager and Br Cosgrove, and that could not be regarded as a nullity, he said. A fair apportionment of the manager’s liability was 10 per cent, he ruled.