By Colm Keena - The Irish Times - 03.11.2023 - [IRELAND]
Speaking outside the Four Courts in Dublin, Ken Grace (56) said he was “not overwhelmed” by the public apology he had just received in court from Brother David Gibson, the head of the Christian Brothers in Ireland.
The apology was made “on behalf of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers” but it was for the pain and suffering Grace had endured after being sexually abused in the 1980s by a member of the congregation, Paul Hendrick.
Hendrick, a principal of Westland Row CBS, which Grace attended, is currently in jail having pleaded guilty to the abuse earlier this year.
The apology, Grace said, is for the crimes committed by Hendrick, not for the “secondary abuse” that he had been put through by the Christian Brothers over the past four and a half years because of their legal strategy.
Like most religious congregations, the Christian Brothers is an unincorporated association. Most congregations put forward a nominee who can be sued for the purposes of litigation but in recent years the Christian Brothers has chosen not to. The result has been that people who want to sue the congregation in historic sex abuse cases have to go through a cumbersome and extremely expensive legal process that takes years.
The purpose of the strategy, Grace’s counsel John Gordon SC said earlier this year, is to put others off suing the congregation. “What a horrible agenda, what a distasteful, despicable agenda, but that is the agenda unless I am completely wrong in my assessment,” he said.
Because the congregation would not provide a nominee, Grace had to sue all surviving brothers from the time he was abused. He ended up suing up to 120 brothers, who did not appoint solicitors or enter defences. It was only last month that it was agreed that Frank Buttimer & Co, the solicitors representing Gibson in his personal capacity, would be willing to enter into mediation on behalf of all the defendants and not just Gibson in his personal capacity.
On Friday, Mr Justice Tony O’Connor was told that the matter had been settled. An apology was then read out by Colm Condon SC. The apology was from Gibson “on behalf of the Congregation of Christian Brothers.” The settlement terms were not disclosed.
Speaking afterwards, Grace said he was satisfied that Gibson had apologised on behalf of the congregation. “The issue I have with the civil case is what they put me through over the past four and a half years,” he said. “They could have done this in six months.”
This was not only difficult for him and a form of “secondary abuse,” it also created a lot of stress for his family, he said.
The brothers did everything in their power to stop the case going to trial he said, “but I think we won at the end and beat their strategy to a certain extent with having them go into mediation on behalf of the congregation.” He is hopeful now that the outcome will serve as an encouragement to others who are suing the brothers.
Grace said he was “satisfied” with the settlement that had been agreed but that it was “a fraction of what the legal fees are for them.” Hopefully this might lead to the brothers changing their strategy and realising the cost and the pain to the victims that it involves, he said.
Since 2017, he said, when the congregation adopted its present strategy, it has been able to secure private settlements with the head of the congregation acting in his personal capacity.
Those settlements, and I am aware of the settlements that went on, were done as cheaply as possible and the legal fees would not have been as exorbitant as they were not suing 120 brothers. They were effectively only suing one person.
“So they managed to get away with their strategy for some time. However this time it has blown up in their face and their legal fees are exorbitant. They told us to sue 120 brothers. So we did.”
Grace is full of praise for his solicitors, Coleman Legal, who ran up substantial legal bills over four and a half years and took the risk of not being paid. The congregation has now consented to paying the costs arising from the case.
Court records show that there other cases in the High Court where the congregation has not opted to put forward a nominee and the plaintiffs are being confronted with the challenge and stress of following the route taken by Grace.
Whether there will be any change in the legal strategy adopted by the Christian Brothers remains to be seen. A request for a comment met with no response. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.