The Catholic diocese responsible for abuses committed by a priest

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The Catholic diocese of Ballarat has been found responsible for the sexual abuse of a young boy by one of its priests.

The decision, considered an Australian first, was released by the Supreme Court in Victoria on Wednesday.

The diocese and its current bishop, Paul Bird, were sued by a man who said he was sexually assaulted by Father Bryan Coffey at his parents’ home in Port Fairy in 1971.

He was five years old.

Coffey was given a three-year suspended prison sentence in 1999 after being convicted of indecent assault on men and women under 16 and forcible confinement.

The man, known as the DP in court documents, did not tell anyone about the assault except his partner until 2018.

He claimed more than $ 1.5 million for lost earnings as a result of the assaults, a figure described as “daring” by Judge Jack Forrest.

Instead, the judge ordered DP to receive $ 200,000 in damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life as well as $ 10,000 for medical costs and $ 20,000 in other damages.

He concluded that the diocese was vicariously responsible for Coffey’s actions due to the close relationship between the then bishop, the diocese, and the Catholic community of Port Fairy.

Justice Forrest pointed to the relationship between DP, his strict Catholic family, Coffey and the diocese “which was a relationship of intimacy and trust imported into the authority of the representative of Christ, personified by Coffey.”

Judge Forrest did not admit that DP suffered from any form of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of Coffey’s assaults, but found that over the past three years he had become obsessed with them.

Because of this, they were partly responsible for the anxiety and depression that DP currently suffers from.

“While I accept that there are other factors contributing to the state of PD, I am reasonably convinced that one cause of his persistent symptoms is, and will be, Coffey’s assaults,” he said. he declares.

DP had also argued that the diocese had been negligent because it had failed to exercise due diligence in its supervision and control of Coffey’s conduct, but had failed in this case. complaint.

Justice Forrest said there was no evidence the Diocese had actual knowledge of Coffey’s misconduct or any evidence that would have led to an inference he should have known.

“Although the circumstances of this case constitute a breach of trust on Coffey’s part, these events occurred almost 50 years ago and little or nothing has been achieved by punishing the diocese and its current bishop.” , he added.


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