Religious leaders in the church and other religious organisations are trusted members of our communities, but some have used their positions to abuse others, particularly children. In this article, we explain how to claim compensation in the unfortunate event that you or a loved one have suffered abuse.

If you have suffered sexual or physical abuse at the hands of a member of the clergy you may be entitled to claim compensation for the harm caused. Although there are time limits, it is often possible to claim for abuse that happened many years ago.

Abuse claims against the Church can be made for abuse that took place in a church or in relation to activities organised by the church.

Claims can also be made against the Catholic Church, the Church of England or against other religious organisations and denominations, where the abuse took place by a member of that organisation, such as a priest or vicar or other religious official, including volunteers or other employees of the organisation.

A claim for abuse can also be made against the individual abuser, where the person has sufficient assets.

Abuse in religious groups

Historically, religion has played an important role within societies all over the world. Members of the Church and other religious organisations are often considered as being among the most senior, trustworthy and reliable authority figures in our communities. However, for many, the faith placed in their religious leaders has been forever lost as a result of those leaders abusing their positions of trust through the sexual abuse of children.

Revelations in recent years about the extent of historical child abuse and subsequent cover-ups, particularly in Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, have shocked many people. Child sexual abuse compensation claims against the Church now make up a significant proportion of all compensation claims in England and Wales.

For those abused by church officials, “historical child abuse” is still a very real and present-day issue. The psychological scars caused by sexual, physical and emotional abuse can cause years of trauma and, sometimes, estrangement from their families and the communities in which they grew up as they try to escape the influence of the people that abused them. For them, making a successful compensation claim against the Church and being able receive an acknowledgment that the Church failed to protect them from the abuse can be essential for allowing them to move forward with their lives.

Holding to account those responsible for the abuse of children and ensuring that they are made to pay compensation to those people they have harmed is the least we, as a society, should expect.

Who do I claim against for abuse in the Church?

Compensation claims against the Church can be made against the individual who carried out the abuse and/or against the organisation that employed the abuser.

Where a claim is made against an organisation, the identity of the defendant will depend on the denomination of the church and the diocese in which the church is based.

The denomination of the church is important because the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches have different dioceses spanning similar geographical areas. For example, a Roman Catholic church in Bristol may be controlled by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton while a Church of England church on the same road may be controlled by the Anglican Diocese of Bristol.

In both denominations, the diocese is only a geographical area and not a legal body in its own right. A claim must therefore be made against the legal entity in charge of the diocese. In many cases are made against the figurehead of the relevant diocese (in most cases, this will be the bishop or archbishop) or the legal body of the diocese in which the abuse took place (often, this will be the trustees of the diocese or archdiocese).

The organisation or diocese may have an insurance policy which covers compensation claims against it. If it does not, compensation in a successful claim will be paid directly by the diocese’s governing body.

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