THE High Court has cleared the way for a man in his 60s to sue the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clonfert arising out of the sexual abuse he claims he suffered when he was an alter boy.
The man, who claims he was sexually and physically abused by a priest who has since died has sued Bishop of Clonfert John Kirby, in his capacity as the nominee of the diocese.
It is claimed that the abuse occurred in the late 1950's and early 1960's, when he was between nine and 12 years of age and when the priest was serving in the Diocese of Clonfert. The man claims that the Bishop is vicariously liable for the actions of the priest.
The claims are opposed by the Bishop.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Peter Charleton dismissed a pretrial application by the bishop aimed at having the action struck on the grounds of inordinate and in excusable delay in bringing proceedings.
The Judge said that the balance of justice lay in allowing the action go to trial, which is expected to be heard by a judge sitting without a jury in the High Court.
Counsel for the Bishop, Rossa Fanning, said that because the alleged events happened so long ago his client feared that he could not get a fair trial.
Counsel told the court that the Bishop Kirby had conducted a detailed investigation of the diocese records and could not find any complaints or allegations made against the priest in question.
As far as the bishop was aware, with the exception of the allegations made by the man, no other complaints had been were made against the priest.
While the bishop was not saying he did not believe the man's claims, due to the lengthy passage of time, where many of the witnesses were long since dead, he could not properly defend the claims against him.
The reality of the situation was the case "was too old and too stale."
However, John Nolan Bl, for the man, said while there was inordinate delay it was not inexcusable.
Counsel said it was not enough for the bishop to say that the case should be dismissed simply because there was nothing in the diocese records suggesting that the priest had been engaged in abuse.
There could well be complaints against the priest contained in other records from other bodies.
Counsel said that another person had provided a sworn statement containing allegations of sexual abuse against the priest in question.
He had not been able to talk about for many years until he heard One in Four's Colm O'Gorman speak out. Since 2006 his client been undergoing counselling from the One in Four Group and in 2011 brought a claim against the Bishop.
Mr Justice Charleton said he was satisfied to dismiss the application to strike out the case but said he was prepared to place a stay on his order pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.