Salvation Army on hook for sex abuse: court

The Salvation Army is responsible for sexual abuse committed by one of its officers, a Newfoundland Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Officer committed assault in homestay arranged by Governing Council

The Salvation Army is responsible for sexual abuse committed by one of its officers, a Newfoundland Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Gerald Fifield, now 64, has admitted he used pornography toconvince a then nine-year-old boy that sex between adults and children is acceptable.

The abuse started in the 1970s, afterFifield was posted in a small Newfoundland community.

The Salvation Army arranged for Fifield to live with the boy's family. He stayed with them for nearly a year, during which time the victim, now middle-aged, says he was forced to have anal sex and to engage in fellatio and masturbation.

The court was told that Fifield abused the boy over a 10-year period, until he was 19.

A publication ban covers the identity of the victim, as well as the name of the village where he lived.

In a civil decision, Justice Maureen Dunn determined that because the Governing Council of the Salvation Army of Canada arranged Fifield's accommodation, the council is alsoresponsible for Fifield's actions.

"The Salvation Army sent this man to the community and actually boarded him with the family, where he later molested at least one of the children in that family," said Geoff Budden, who represents the victim, known in court documents as John Doe.

Some of the incidents happened in the Salvation Army citadel where Fifield worked.

The Salvation Army argued that it should not be held responsible for the actions of Fifield, who is now in ill health and lives in an old age home in central Newfoundland.

But in her decision, Dunn said the Salvation Army opened the door for a higher level of friendship and intimacy when it arranged for Fifield to reside with the victim's family.

Budden thinks that may have broad implications.

"I think after this decision, in most cases, the religious organizations will be responsible for compensating for abuse of this sort," Budden said.

Fifield has never been criminally charged in the case.

The Salvation Army has the option of appealing Dunn's decision.