There is currently a case taking place in the UK that involves a girl known as “JGE”, who was 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. JGE 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.
OK, so far it is the usual story … now, prepare to be gob-smacked … the defense is claiming that Catholic priests are not legally employees of the church, hence there is no remit to sue the Catholic church for damages.
Yes indeed, utter denial and avoiding any responsibility. The report in the Guardian (here), quite rightly, quotes the lawyers pursuing the case as saying …
“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.”
Will this defense fly? Hopefully not. Previous hearings in the House of Lords and the court of appeal relating to other church organisations have found that ministers should be treated as employees.
Thinking about it all, and taking into consideration all the cover-up and lying to conceal the abuse and protect the abusers (still on-going to this day), I guess a defense like this should be no surprise.