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Man Gets $230,000 in Compensation After Sexual Abuse by a Priest

Case Overview
  • Our client suffered sexual abuse by a priest in 1971 during pastoral care visits to his own home.
  • The abuse had a traumatic impact on the boy’s life, who tragically developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder amongst other psychological conditions.
  • GMP helped him receive $230,000 compensation so that he can find some sense of closure.

A man was recently awarded $230,000.00 by the Victorian Supreme Court for the sexual abuse he suffered by a priest in 1971 during pastoral care visits to the boy’s own home. 

The Catholic Diocese of Ballarat was held vicariously liable for the abuse perpetrated by Fr Bryan Coffey in Port Fairy on two occasions in the 1970s when Fr Coffey visited the five-year-old boy’s private home for pastoral care home-visits. The abuse had a traumatic impact on the boy’s life, who tragically developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder amongst other psychological conditions. The abuse also had life-long repercussions for the victim, affecting his future career trajectory and earning capacity. 

The Catholic Church denied that it was vicariously liable for the actions of Fr Coffey on the basis that the abuse occurred ‘after hours’ and during the perpetrator’s social visits to the home.

This argument was completely dismissed by the Victorian supreme court who held that it was “both inconceivable and an affront to common sense” [260] to suggest that these visits to parishioners’ houses and the victim’s home “were unconnected with Coffey’s pastoral role within the Church and merely social outings separate to his role as an assistant priest”.

Justice Forrest further remarked:

“Catholic clergy in rural Victoria did not “punch the time clock” at 5:00pm, or after celebrating Mass or taking confession. Rather… their role extended to pastoral care after hours and on weekends.” [259]

“The Court held that pastoral visits to the homes of parishioners were part of the perpetrator’s duties as assistant priest and his pastoral role, which reasonably extended to social functions – and that to suggest the social visits were unconnected with the perpetrator’s role was ‘sheer nonsense’ [261]. ”

Christine Beshay
Our Approach

The Defendant also argued that Fr Coffey was not an employee and that the Diocese was not vicariously liable for the perpetrator’s actions in the absence of an employment relationship. The Court agreed that Fr Coffey could not be treated as an employee of the Defendant given the absence of a formal contract of employment or arrangement. But this did not matter.

The Court instead looked at the totality of the relationship between the parties to determine whether the Diocese was vicariously liable. Justice Forrest found the Diocese to be vicariously liable for Fr Coffey’s actions through a “holistic and broad inquiry into the circumstances surrounding: the relationship between the Diocese and Coffey; the role of both the parish priest (Father O’Dowd) and Coffey; Coffey’s role within the Port Fairy Catholic community; and Coffey’s relationship with DP and his family”.

The judgment recognised the significant trauma suffered by the victim who was vulnerable, isolated and powerless before the perpetrator, Fr Coffey, who in turn was in a position of power, trust and authority.  As remarked by Justice Hack Forrest:

“I am also satisfied that Coffey’s role as a priest under the direction of the Diocese placed him in a position of power and intimacy vis-à-vis the survivor that enabled him to take advantage of him when alone — just as he did with other boys.” [280]

If you have an enquiry in relation to a potential child abuse or sexual assault claim, please call us on 1800 004 878 and speak to one of our experienced lawyers.

The Result

While the sum of money received by victims of childhood sexual abuse will never resolve the traumatic experience of the abuse or reverse past wrongs, it helps victims find some sense of closure. He was awarded $230,000 by the Victorian Supreme Court for the sexual abuse.

Christine Beshay

Special Counsel
Frequently Asked Questions

More Information

Learning institutions serve as sanctuaries, where people of all ages can go to learn and discover new skills that can help them become more well-rounded individuals. Teachers and administrators play an important role in ensuring that this goal is achieved, and more often than not, they make all of us proud. Every day millions of parents trust their local schools with their children’s well-being. But what happens when the school falls short? From serious injury to child abuse and sexual abuse, incidents at school can have a lifelong impact. But when is the school itself liable?

What many victims may not realize is that a school can be held responsible even if they didn’t directly cause the injury — so long as their lack of reasonable preventative action contributed. Proving this, however, can be challenging.

Ultimately, if you, your child, or another loved one was harmed as a result of school negligence, you have options. The expert solicitors at Gerard Malouf & Partners can help.

A statute of limitations effectively sets a time limit on the start of legal proceedings. For offences that have a statute of limitations, claims have to be brought before the time limit expires.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault or physical or mental abuse as an adult, the statute of limitations is three years. If the victim was a child at the time of the offence there is no time limit.

The National Redress System was set up in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013 to 2017). It is designed to offer support and financial compensation to victims. Claims can be made until June 2027.


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 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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