British court finds priest sexual abuse caused only limited damage to claimant

In Raggett v. Society of Jesus Trust 1929 for Roman Catholic Purposes, (EWHC, Nov. 9, 2012), a British trial court (England and Wales High Court Queen’s Bench Division) was faced with the question of the amount of damages to award to claimant who had been the victim of “a sustained course of sexual abuse” (but not “penetrative activity”) by a Catholic priest beginning in 1970 when plaintiff was 11 years old and continuing until he was 15. Claimant, who was a law school graduate, sought damages in excess of £4 million.  He claimed that:

the psychiatric damage resulting from the abuse caused him difficulties in forming and maintaining personal relationships, in particular with his first wife. He also contends that the personality change caused by the abuse had a seriously detrimental effect on his ability to work as a solicitor. In particular, it adversely affected his ability to relate to people in positions of authority and to exercise appropriate judgment and self-control in his dealings with them. It is said that it also caused the claimant to indulge in ‘risk taking’ behaviour, to drink excessively and to use illicit drugs. It is claimed that the personality change resulted in the loss of his employment with Pinsents and his inability to obtain alternative employment as a lawyer.

The court in a 350 paragraph opinion, however, awarded him only £54,923.03, concluding that:

the psychological effects of the sexual abuse were confined to a period of about eight years from the start of the abuse until the beginning of the claimant’s third year at University. They would have been most acute during the period of four years or so when the abuse was continuing. Thereafter, I find that the claimant’s problems were caused mainly by his harmful use of alcohol, coupled with his abnormal personality traits. I do not consider that the abuse played any significant role in the claimant’s performance at work, the loss of his legal career, his excessive drinking, his drug taking or his difficulties with relationships.