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article imageLondon court rules Catholic Church can be liable for sex abuse

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 9, 2011 in World
London - In a case of alleged sex abuse by a Catholic priest that has been described as a "test case," a High Court in London has ruled the Catholic Church can be held liable for the offenses of its priests.
The Guardian reports Mr. Justice Alistair MacDuff gave the ruling on a preliminary issue in the case of an unnamed woman who accused a Catholic priest, late Father Wilfred Baldwin of Portsmouth Diocese, of sexually assaulting her as a child at a children's home in Hampshire run by Catholic nuns.
The "preliminary issue" had arisen at the hearing in July when Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC, representing the plaintiff, said the issue at the center of the case was whether the Church can "ever be vicariously liable in any situation of any tort at all."
Mr. Justice MacDuff said the Church "may be vicariously liable" for the actions of late Father Wilfred Baldwin. The high court, according to The Guardian, said even though there was no formal contract between the priest and the church, there were "crucial features" which make the relationship akin to an employment relationship.
Mr. Justice MacDuff said:
"He [Baldwin] was provided with the premises, the pulpit and the clerical robes. He was directed into the community with that full authority and was given free rein to act as a representative of the church. He had been trained and ordained for the purpose. He had immense power handed to him by the defendants [the trustees of the Roman Catholic diocesan trust]. It was they who appointed him to the position of trust, which (if the allegations be proved) he so abused."
AFP reports Lord Faulks QC, representing the trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust (the defendants), said the Catholic Church takes cases of "sexual abuse extremely seriously and it is entirely concerned to eradicate it." Lord Faulks QC, however, pointed out that the court's ruling was on a point of law involved in a preliminary issue in the case. He said the church was not trying to avoid responsibility in cases of sexual abuse.
Walesonline.com says legal experts consider Mr. Justice MacDuff's ruling significant because it was the first time a court was asked to pronounce on whether "relationship between a Catholic priest and his bishop is akin to an employment relationship."
The Guardian, in its report, says the high court ruling will make it easier for victims of sexual abuse by church priests to bring claims against the church.
The plaintiff, speaking to The Guardian, said she was pleased with the court's decision but expressed her displeasure at the church being allowed to appeal. She said:
"I'm fuming. I've had no support from the church whatsoever. Nobody has contacted me. They are ignoring victims. It feels like being on a rack, turning the screws tighter and tighter, over hot coals."
The Vanguard reports that compared to neighboring Ireland, there have been relatively few cases of clerical sex abuse in Britain, but the Vatican is involved in an investigation of sexual abuse claims at a London abbey.
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