Former school chaplain must pay legal costs for reinstatement bid
A former secondary school chaplain cleared of accusations of having a sexual relationship with a student must pay 75 per cent of the legal costs of an unsuccessful bid to be restored to the chaplaincy position, the High Court ruled.
The priest was allowed return to the school to teach religion but not as school chaplain, following an investigation which found he had had an inappropriate but not sexual relationship with a girl in the secondary school between 2006 and 2007.
He had been accused of developing a close relationship with the girl which allegedly became sexual when she was in fifth year but broke down when she was in sixth year. It was claimed that sexual encounters occurred in the oratory of the priest’s office and in his house.
It was also alleged that the priest got the student drunk while on a pilgrimage abroad and she woke up the next morning in his bed.
Following a complaint in 2011 some years after the girl left the school, the school’s board of management put him on administrative leave and held a disciplinary hearing into the allegations.
In December 2012, the board stated that “on balance, the board believes that there was no sexual impropriety” by the priest.
However, the board did believe certain aspects of the priest’s conduct were inappropriate. He was requested to undergo risk assessment by a psychologist, who found the priest posed a “low risk” to students and may pose no risk at all.
The psychologist made a number of recommendations, including that he not engage in counselling pupils, that he should not have any lead role in group activities and that he should not participate in school trips.
The psychologist also noted the priest’s vow of celibacy could itself, in certain circumstances, create a risk.
In October 2013, the priest was told he could return as a religious education teacher subject to the psychologist’s recommendations.
He claimed this was an unlawful removal of him from the chaplaincy and was in breach of fair procedures. The conditions on his return were harsh, arbitrary and unreasonable, he claimed.
The priest brought High Court proceedings seeking an order that he was still school chaplain and quashing the conditions imposed on his return.
The board of management opposed his application, denying his claims and arguing that it was not a matter of public law and he was out of time for bringing the case.
Ms Justice Marie Baker found no lack of fair procedure in the board’s decision and that the priest was given full opportunity to address the nature of the complaint against him.
She rejected his claim that the conditions on his return were unfair or beyond the powers of the board.
The judge also found the decision to employ him as teacher of religion, rather than chaplain, was one with a sufficient public law element to attract review.
In a subsequent decision on legal costs, Ms Justice Baker said in regard to her decision that, given there was a public law interest in bringing the case, she would only award the school 75 per cent of its costs.