Church to face pounds 1m claim for sexual abuse

Nun fights for payout after assaults by clergyman

The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England are to face compensation claims totalling pounds 1m from two women - one, a nun - who were sexually abused by clergymen.

Each of the women is to sue for pounds 500,000 damages for the emotional, physical and psychological distress caused by their abusers. In each case, the churches have admitted the guilt of the clergymen involved but have made no offers of help or support to the women.

The Anglican church is due to receive a claim in the coming weeks from a 43-year-old woman who was abused by a chaplain 10 years ago. Last week, Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, was told that Sister Yvonne Maes, who remains a nun until an anticipated dispensation is granted, is seeking a settlement for abuse she suffered at the hands of a priest 11 years ago.

The legal moves will be seen as further embarrassment for both churches, which have been beset by sexual scandal in recent months, culminating in revelations that the Rt Rev Roderick Wright, the Catholic Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, had abandoned the Church in favour of a divorcee. It later emerged that he had a 15-year-old son from another relationship.

"These women see this as a fight for justice for themselves and for others who have been abused by clergymen and then sent off with neither an apology nor any help," said Andrew McCooey, the solicitor representing the women.

"They were in vulnerable positions which were exploited by priests. Afterwards, when they complained, the biggest consideration seemed to be keeping details out of the media. Their state of mind or future security did not seem important to either church."

Sister Yvonne, who lives in Labrador, Canada, was abused by Father Frank Goodall, an English-based priest who was running a retreat in South Africa, in July 1985. Abuse continued for several years afterwards at various locations, including Hawkstone Hall in Shrewsbury.

An ecclesiastical tribunal reprimanded Fr Goodall last December after upholding a charge of pastoral sexual abuse. He remains in the church but was ordered to have no contact with female parishioners.

She told The Independent: "I have been completely destroyed by this and yet the Church in England has done nothing for me. I have lost everything. I have no pension and, of course, no savings, and I have lost the lovely family I had around me. Now I have no one.

"My community, the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Montreal, has offered up to $65,000 (Canadian) after 37 years of my life, but the church in England, where I reported the offence, has offered nothing. If I don't do this, I will be on welfare in my old age.

"The priest took advantage of me when I was a virgin. Those are hardly the actions of a man of God. Although I was a middle-aged woman, I was a child in matters of sex. I am totally disillusioned. The church seems to think these matters can be just swept under the carpet."

The second claimant, who wishes to remain anonymous, was abused by a chaplain while she was a student in London 10 years ago. "I was going through a terrible time and he took advantage of that," she said.

"I had been sexually abused as a child and I was receiving help. But I was drinking and I was on all sorts of anti- depressants and I was a real mess. The chaplain was good to me at first, even helping me after I took an overdose. But then he started coming to my flat early in the morning and grabbing hold of me and French kissing and then it got worse."

The woman said no intercourse took place, but it was later established - and admitted by the priest - that a sexual assault had occurred. After years of therapy, she raised the case with the church 18 months ago, resulting in the priest, who had moved to Florida, being defrocked.

But her requests for help went unheeded until last Friday, when she received a letter saying the Church of England would pay for 12 therapy sessions costing pounds 25 to pounds 30 "and no more" per session.

"I have had 10 years of pain and anguish over this," she said. "It is a gesture, but they have to understand that the pain goes much deeper."

Mr McCooey said: "The claims may seem high, but they are not unreasonable. If invested, the money will simply provide a decent living for the women's old age. They have both been spiritually and emotionally destroyed and that needs to be recognised." He said criminal proceedings had not been ruled out.

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church said he felt an approach to Cardinal Hume would be misdirected. "I don't believe that any such case would stand up in court," he said. But if legal action were to be taken, it ought to be directed at the priest's superior, who is based in Liverpool."

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