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Sexual abuse in religion

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse as a result of your involvement in a religious organisation, you may want justice, compensation, or simply an apology. You may also want further advice and support.

Whether the sexual abuse suffered was by an individual as part of a religious organisation. Justice for many people, includes the compensation you may be entitled to. While compensation can’t undo the experience of suffering abuse, it can help you start to move on with your life.

The abuse team at Hugh James has a proven track record in acting for survivors of sexual abuse within religious institutions. We help you claim compensation as a result of being abused by:

  • Priests and other religious leaders
  • Volunteers and trainees
  • Elders
  • Nuns and monks
  • Ministers
  • Rabbis
  • Imam
  • Vergers

If any religious organisation as failed in its duty to safeguard children from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, it may be liable for compensation. Our expert team of child abuse solicitors have dealt with numerous claims against the Roman Catholic Church, Church of England, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious organisations.

Free confidential chat

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse in any form, you have every right to make a claim for damages, and we’re here to advise and support you through the legal process. We will:

  • Speak to you in confidence
  • Listen and advise
  • Welcome a friend or family member to be with you
  • Only do what you ask us to do

You are in control – you haven’t started a process you can’t stop.

Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published their findings report after 7 weeks of public hearings. The full report can be found here.

The report confirms between the period of 1970 and 2015, the Catholic Church received more than 900 complaints involving over 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse in England and Wales. Since 2016, there have been more than 100 reported allegations each year. However, as with all abuse figures, the true scale of abuse is likely to have been significantly higher.

The report noted the changes brought about by Nolan and Cumberlege inquiries resulted in improvements over the years including more formal handling of reports of child sexual abuse, better training and greater cooperation with the statutory authorities. However, the report found this was in contrast, with slower progress in other areas.

The report found leading Catholic Cardinal, Vincent Nichols, prioritised the reputation of the church’ above his duty to sex assault victims. At the time of writing, Cardinal Nichols has refused to resign despite the report findings that he demonstrated ‘no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change’. This follows IICSA’s 2018 report in which he apologised for failing starting “We humbly ask forgiveness … for our slowness and defensiveness and for our neglect of both preventative and restorative actions”.

The report has found that the Catholic Church repeatedly failed to support victims and survivors, while taking positive action to protect alleged perpetrators, including moving them to different parishes.

The report highlighted the case of Father James Robinson, who was moved to another parish within the Archdiocese of Birmingham after complaints were first made against him. Robinson abused children between 1959 and 1983 before fleeing to the US. He was later jailed in 2010 for 21 years. At the time of his imprisonment, the church still refused to defrock him.

The inquiry criticised that the Holy See and the Apostolic Nuncio because its ambassador to the UK, did not provide witness statements to the Inquiry despite repeated requests. The lack of cooperation stands in direct contrast with Pope Francis’ statement in 2019, calling for “concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church”.

The report makes 7 recommendations:

  1. Leadership – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Conference of Religious in England and Wales should each nominate a lead member of the clergy for safeguarding to provide leadership and oversight on safeguarding matters to their respective Conferences and the wider Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
  2. Training – Ensure that safeguarding training is mandatory for all staff and volunteers in roles where they work with children or victims and survivors of abuse.
  3. Compliance – Publish a clear framework for dealing with cases of non-compliance with safeguarding policies and procedures. That framework should identify who is responsible for dealing with issues of non-compliance at all levels of the Church and include the measures or sanctions for non-compliance.
  4. External auditing – These independent reports should be published.
  5. Canon 1395 – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales should request that the Holy See redraft the canonical crimes relating to child sexual abuse as crimes against the child.
  6. Having a Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service website and policies and procedures manual
  7. Having a National Complaints policy and escalation process assessed by an independent adjudicator

The final report is due to be put before Parliament in 2022.

Abuse in the Church of England

An interim pilot scheme has been drawn up to initially compensate 10 survivors. A statement read ‘The pilot scheme is designed to enable the Church to respond in particular to those survivors’ cases which are already known to the Church, where the survivor is known to be in seriously distressed circumstances, and the Church has a heightened responsibility because of the way the survivor was responded to following disclosure”.

Compensation funds have now been approved by the Church’s Cabinet, the Archbishops Council. Initial estimates suggest compensation will amount to potentially £200 million.

The scheme will look to compensate these 10 individuals as a ‘pilot’ before finalising the full Redress Scheme which will then be opened up to the masses. At this time, it is unclear what the times scale will be for this.

The Church of England compensation scheme follows the ongoing investigation and criticism by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The IICSA has held several hearings into abuse in the Church or England and the Catholic Church The finalised report is still awaited, such hearing being delayed by the current covid pandemic. The inquiry’s report is expected to heavily criticise the Church of England for its failure to act on disclosures of abuse and to treat survivors with compassion by protecting clergy at the expense of children and vulnerable adults

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, and Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, have previously both given evidence in person to the IISCA, apologising for abuse and its cover-up. The Archbishop of Canterbury, told it that

He was ashamed of the church and abusers should go to prison. ‘These decisions feel like a turning point. We continue to pray for survivors and all those the Church has failed.

A separate 2017 investigation by the IICSA into abuse by former bishop Peter Ball found the church failed to protect boys and then concealed evidence of Ball’s crime and prioritised its own reputation above the needs of victims. Ball was jailed for 32 months in 2015 for sexual abuse against boys carried out over three decades. Ball was allowed to remain in the Church after accepting a reprimand for his behaviour in 1993.

The redress scheme has been publicised as the turning point in the Church’s treatment of survivors abused by bishops, clergy, churchwardens, employees, volunteers, congregation members and people with church connections. The Archbishops’ Council also committed the Church of England to greater independence and transparency in the way it deals with abuse. The scheme has been a long time coming for many victims whose complaints were never investigated or dismissed.

Reporting of both current and historical abuse in the dioceses have risen experientially based on the initial data disclosed in the last few years. In 2017 there were 3,287 complaints, compared with 2,195 in 2015. It is understood the increase is from vulnerable category victims.

It is predicted thousands of individuals will come forward to apply to the scheme who may not have already disclosed their experiences The criteria an applicant will be required to meet to be eligible to apply to the scheme and the finer details of the compensation awards tariff available has yet to be disclosed at this time. It is thought the scheme with cover sexual abuse, physical and psychological abuse.

Abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reported being in receipt of a large number of complaints in respect of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK. This can only suggest, tragically, many have been subjected to abuse whilst practising within the Jehovah’s Witness faith.

The structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK (and worldwide) has been analysed by the Court of Appeal in England and it has been found that liability can attach to the congregations for sexual abuse committed by members. The abuser does not have to be an elder and neither does the abuser have to be a current member as long they were a member when the abuse occurred.

The structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is complicated and so is the law surrounding potential liability. Therefore, it is important to take advice from solicitors who understand the structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their practices, procedures and policies and importantly, the law regarding vicarious liability and negligence.

The abuse team at Hugh James has a proven track record in acting for survivors of sexual abuse within religious institutions and within the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK. The solicitors in the abuse team understand the structure of the Jehovah’s Witness UK and the barriers to reporting sexual abuse which many members face.

If you have experienced abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK, please get in touch using the phone or envelope icons on this page.

How can we help

Whichever course of action you choose, our lawyers have many years’ experience of working with survivors of abuse and will always have your best interests at heart. You’ll find us sensitive to your needs, expert at listening, and thoughtful and considered when explaining the options open to you.

Our team of specialist solicitors have helped many people secure sexual abuse compensation. One of our team can offer you a free consultation to give you advice on making a claim. We can meet you at home, in our office, or any location you choose – or we can talk on the phone if you prefer.

Please don’t feel worried or embarrassed discussing your claim with one of us. We’ll deal with your case with great care and attention, and completely confidentially, to help you achieve the justice you deserve.

Free confidential chat

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse in any form, you have every right to make a claim for damages, and we’re here to advise and support you through the legal process. We will:

  • Speak to you in confidence
  • Listen and advise
  • Welcome a friend or family member to be with you
  • Only do what you ask us to do

You are in control – you haven’t started a process you can’t stop.

Key contact

Alan Collins


Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.  Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).

Case studies

Church of England vicar abused young boy

We recently represented a client who bravely disclosed the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his local vicar in the early 1980’s when he was a young boy.

The vicar in question had been accused previously of sexual misconduct against a child but after a short period was permitted to return to the church where he continued to abuse at least two other survivors.

In addition to conducting the civil claim, we were able to support the client while he attended the criminal trial and also with a media appearance in which our client spoke out against the abuser.

The claim was settled without the need for civil court proceedings. Our client also received an apology letter from the church which was important for him as the church recognised failings within the institution.

Your questions answered

Sexual abuse includes any form of unwanted touching, as well as name calling or internet contact, or using sex as a way of causing pain or humiliation. It can be a one-off occurrence or carry on over a period of time. It might have happened earlier in your life or still be happening now. If you have suffered sexual abuse, or you suspect someone else is being sexually abused, you should report it to the police, even if it was a long time ago.

You can make a claim for sexual abuse compensation against an abuser, but also any organisation, institution or individual that failed in their duty of care to protect you from harm.

We’ll help you gather the evidence you need to make a claim. To help, you should try to preserve all the evidence as best you can. Photograph injuries, print off internet logs, keep soiled clothing safe in a freezer bag, and keep details of all doctor’s or hospital visits. Get the names and addresses of people who could be witnesses, including people you told about the abuse.

In most cases, you won’t. If a case had to go to court, we’d meet you in person to get your instructions, and do so in a place where you feel comfortable. You’d also have the chance to reconsider. If you wanted, we could arrange for you to give evidence by video.

Absolutely. You have a right to confidentiality, so no one else will know what we discuss unless you tell them.

We can represent you on a no win, no fee basis, so there’s no worry about having to pay. We’ll explain in detail how it works.

We’ll do only what you ask us to do – you’re always in control and can stop the process at any point.

Next steps

We’re here to get things moving. Drop a message to one of our experts and we’ll get straight back to you.

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