A Court of Appeal in Britain has ruled that the Catholic Church, as a general entity, can be held legally and financially responsible when a priest commits crimes (when working as a priest). This comes with pretty serious consequences...
Peter Dazeley / Photographer's Choice
The plaintiff in the case is a woman who says that when she was a child, she was sexually assaulted by the late Father William Baldwin, a priest of the Portsmouth Diocese. He was apparently volunteering his time at a children's home in Hampshire run by an order of nuns.
What makes this unique is his volunteer status -- he appears to not have been directly employed by the home or perhaps even the parish where the home was. If he was employed by them, then the existence of an employer/employee relationship would have eliminated the need for this ruling.
Lawyers for the claimant said of the ruling in November 2011 that it was the first time a court had been asked to rule on whether the "relationship between a Catholic priest and his bishop is akin to an employment relationship".
After the latest hearing, the claimant's lawyer Tracey Emmott said: 'It is hoped that this ruling will now be accepted, and that victims of abuse by Catholic priests can be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."
A spokesman for the diocese said: "This case is not, and has never been, about seeking to avoid or delay the payment of compensation to victims with valid claims. This case is about fundamental legal principles involving the very nature of civil society and religious freedom."
"It would be disastrous if, in seeking to provide redress for victims of harm, the law put intolerable new pressures on the voluntary sector. This judgement shows further thought and scrutiny are required before clarity in this regard can be established."
The Catholic Church wants the relationship between the Church and the priests to be controlled exclusively by canon law. To some degree that's understandable, but insofar as it means "we want to be able to tell priests what to do but not be held in any way responsible for what they do," that's not understandable or reasonable at all.
Isn't it curious that taking responsibility for what priests have done and, moreover, for the coverups of what priests have done, is not widely regarded in the Catholic hierarchy as an important moral principle that needs to be upheld?