This was a High Court judgment, about a priest grooming and then abusing a boy .The High Court’s rejection that the Church was liable for the priest as its employee ( “vicarious liability “) was a surprising judgment and the Court of Appeal overturned it.
As has been said many times, the basic test for applying vicarious liability is from the House of Lords’ judgment in Lister -v- Hester Hall Ltd, essentially whether the individual’s actions are so closely connected with his employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employer vicariously liable.
In this case, the Catholic priest had met the boy in public when he was wearing his clerical uniform, talked with him about his sports car in the church yard and so forth before regularly engaging him to wash the car and grooming him through church events such as discos at a later stage to the point the boy started to clear up after discos.
The High Court had found that there was no connection between his work and this process of grooming and the ultimate abuse because the initial connection was public and the boy was not a Catholic and they somehow equated this to any public meeting.
The Court of Appeal accepted the fact the boy was a non- Catholic took him somewhat outside the scope of direct care by a priest to the boy and was therefore somewhat weaker than the case of Lister which involved a school warden with direct care over boys.
However, the priest had used his moral authority and standing in the community as a priest to gain the trust of the boy, which authority and trust in the eyes of the public exceeded that even of a teacher. There was nothing unusual about his welcoming the boy into the church and befriending him because the priest had an evangelical function for the church and a duty to reach out and convert people and in this particular case for youth work at the church.
Furthermore, he had used his authority and his job to encourage the boy to come to church discos and the like in the course of grooming. There was clearly a connection between his work and the way he did his work , the location of the jobs given to the boy and the later abuse on church premises and the opportunity afforded him and the abuse which later occurred.
It was therefore established there was a close connection and it was fair and just that the church assume vicarious liability for the abuse that occurred.
Maga -v- Trustees Birmingham Arch Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, CA 25 March 2010.