Catholic Church Denies Legal Responsibility For Sexual Abuse
Victims of sexual abuse by priests will no longer be able to sue the Catholic church for damages if a landmark judgment rules that priests should not be considered as employees. Such a decision could have massive consequences for abuse victims.
Britain’s Channel 4 reports that the Roman Catholic Church took the unprecedented step of arguing in a court case earlier this month that it is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests, arguing that the relationship between a Catholic priest and the bishop of the local diocese is not an employment relationship and therefore the diocese does not have vicarious liability.
Catholic Church Not Responsible For Priests’ Behavior?
The church has employed the argument in the past but this was the first time it had been used in open court, and a ruling in the church’s favor would set a legal precedent.
From The Observer:
The ruling is being made as part of a preliminary hearing into the case of “JGE”, who claims to have been sexually abused while a six-year-old resident at The Firs, a children’s home in Portsmouth run by an order of nuns, the English Province of Our Lady of Charity. “If we fail, it would mean that no other victims of Catholic priests would be able to be compensated,” said Tracey Emmott of Emmott Snell, a specialist in working with sexual abuse claims who is representing JGE.
JGE alleges that she was sexually abused by Father Wilfred Baldwin, a priest of the Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth and its “vocations director,” who regularly visited The Firs during the 70s. Her legal team claim the nuns were negligent and in breach of duty, and that the diocese was liable for Baldwin’s alleged abuse as he was a Catholic priest engaged within the work of the diocese.
The church’s defence has been condemned by lawyers. “I think the Catholic church’s attempt to avoid responsibility for the abhorrent actions of one of its priests is nothing short of scandalous,” said Richard Scorer of the law firm Pannone, which specialises in abuse cases. “The Catholic church would be better served by facing up to its responsibilities rather than trying to hide behind spurious employment law arguments.”
Previous Hearings Have Found That The Church Is Responsible
Previous hearings in the House of Lords and the court of appeal relating to other church organizations have found that ministers should be treated as employees.
Of course they should. Catholic priests are employed by the diocese in which they live, and receive their stipend from that diocese. As the daughter of a minister of the Church of England, which uses the same system, I remember well my father discussing with his diocese the possibility of a pay increase to his meager salary.
Not Christian Behavior By The Church
But the much bigger point is, “How dare they even try to claim this?” How can the Catholic Church call itself “Christian” at one moment, and at the next moment show a total lack of compassion by seeking to deny any responsibility for the immoral behavior of its priests?
The President Of Ireland Has Raised This Exact Point
Again, from The Observer:
The use of the defence raises further questions about the church’s willingness to accept culpability for abuse. It follows a damning report into abuse at the diocese of Cloyne in Ireland which prompted the Irish president, Mary McAleese, to call on leaders of the church “to urgently reflect on how, by coherent and effective action, it can restore public trust and confidence in its stated objective of putting children first”.
It is simply unbelievable that the Catholic Church is claiming that it isn’t legally responsible for the behavior of its own priests, in order to avoid ever having to compensate the victims of their abuses.
That is an unthinkable prospect, and will serve only to drag the image of the Roman Catholic church even lower in the eyes of the world. Yet another example of people using the word “Christian” when they are decidedly not.
Photo Credit: Jim, The Photographer via Creative Commons