Diocese to pay £170,000 to man subjected to ‘unfathomably cruel’ sexual abuse

A man subjected to “unfathomably cruel” sexual abuse by a priest hearing his childhood confessions is to be awarded £170,000 in damages, a High Court judge has ruled.

The ruling was delivered at the High Court in Belfast
The ruling was delivered at the High Court in Belfast

Mr Justice McAlinden held that he was preyed on by the late Father Seamus Reid at a County Down school in the mid 1970s.

The total payout also covers separate claims that a former principal of St Mark’s High School in Warrenpoint caned him so hard that he wet himself, and then made him clean up the pool of blood and urine.

The Diocese of Dromore was held liable for the alleged episodes of sexual and physical abuse which resulted in the victim developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I find it difficult to imagine a more horrific perversion of the true purpose and meaning of a Christian sacrament by an ordained member of the clergy of a Christian church,” the judge said.

“I contrast this abominable behaviour of Fr Seamus Reid with the words attributed to the founder of Christianity at Chapter 19 verse 14 of St Matthew’s Gospel, as translated in the King James Bible: ‘But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’”

The plaintiff, now in his late fifties, sued the Diocese over what he said happened to him as a 12 and 13-year-old pupil at St Mark’s.

He gave evidence about accepting invitations from Fr Reid - who died in 2001 - to hear his confession in a school store room and sickbay.

Each time the priest donned his purple stole, took out rosary beads and a handkerchief, told the boy to kneel facing away from him and started rubbing his chest, the court heard.

The alleged molestation only came to light during a further incident when he was taken to a nearby caravan because the store room was locked.

The plaintiff recalled Fr Reid smelling strongly of stale cigarette smoke, and feeling “horrified and very frightened” at having his privates grabbed.

He then twisted round to discover what was going on behind his back.

The clergyman reacted angrily, shouted at the boy to get out and pushed him back into school.

Mr Justice McAlinden held the pupil rightly concluded that the priest had behaved in an “equally abominable fashion” previously in the sickbay and storeroom.

“It is clear that Fr Reid took advantage of the plaintiff’s vulnerability and abused his need for support during a difficult period of his young life,” he said.

“That abuse was unfathomably cruel.”

The victim told no-one what had happened until he broke down and informed a counsellor in 2014.

His parents both died without him being able to explain to them how he had been targeted.

Another part of the civil action centred on separate allegations that he was physically abused by Hugh McNamara, principal of St Mark’s at the time, over an incident of smoking in the school toilets.

According to the man’s evidence he was caned with such force in the headmaster’s office that one of his hands started bleeding.

The pain was so severe that he lost control of his bladder, he said, with a pool of blood and urine forming on the floor.

He testified that Mr McNamara told him: “A boy like you is not going to bring this school into the gutter.”

After the punishment was inflicted, the teacher shoved paper towels against the sobbing boy’s chest and told him to wipe the mess off the floor, it was claimed.

In his ruling the judge said he was convinced that Mr McNamara, now aged in his nineties, behaved as alleged and made the remarks for some unknown reason.

“It was a cruel and excessive physical punishment of a child, calculated to inflict extreme pain and with the intention of striking terror into the child,” he held.

“It was conducted in such a manner and in such circumstances as to grossly humiliate the child.”

Mr Justice McNamara confirmed: “In summary, I find that the plaintiff’s allegations both in respect of Fr Seamus Reid and in respect of Mr Hugh McNamara are convincingly proven.”

“The defendant is vicariously liable for the tortious actions of these two individuals.”

Assessing the level of damages, the judge set out how the plaintiff suffered nightmares, bouts of depression, and feelings of shame and disgust.

A serious drink problem resulted in the breakdown of his marriage and estrangement from his own children.

What he experienced and saw in that caravan shattered his faith and destroyed any trust he had in the clergy,” Mr Justice McAlinden added.

He ruled: “I have no hesitation in concluding that a global figure of £170,000 in respect of general damages is appropriate in this case.”