Victorian court allows abused altar boy’s children and wife to sue Catholic church

Family Sue Catholic Church

Title: Victorian court allows abused altar boy’s children and wife to sue Catholic church
Author: Christopher Knaus
Publisher: The Guardian
Date: 05JAN2023
Unique case may set precedent as family alleges church’s failings caused man’s violence in later life.

A Victorian court has paved the way for the children and wife of an abused altar boy to sue the Catholic church, alleging the church’s failings caused their father and husband to become a violent alcoholic and drug addict who beat them later in life.

The abuse victim, now dead, was an altar boy in north-west Victoria in the mid-1970s when he was allegedly raped by Father Bryan Coffey, a parish priest who allegedly used his role as the supervisor of the local school’s cross-country team to prey on children.

Coffey, who died in 2013, is alleged to have abused nine children across four parishes between 1960 and 1975. The church allegedly moved Coffey between various parish appointments because of “knowledge or suspicion that he was capable of child abuse”.

In the years that followed his abuse, the altar boy began drinking heavily and later developed a serious substance abuse disorder. He was violent and abusive to his wife, whom he married roughly a decade later, and their two children, according to court documents.

Now the wife and two children, who cannot be identified, have sued the Catholic church, alleging they are “secondary victims” of its failure to prevent Coffey from abusing children.

They allege the church should have known that failing to protect the boy from abuse meant that, if he went on to have a family, his immediate relatives would be left “vulnerable to the risk of harm”.

The case is unique in that it alleges the church had a duty of care to the victim’s immediate family members, despite the fact that the abuse happened more than a decade before he met his wife and before the two children were born.

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