The sacred and the profane

The Catholic church in the UK is finding itself having to answer to the law. What an indignity! What presumption! Mere secular humans with secular training in secular law daring to meddle with sanctified Standers-in For Jesus. The church is god’s telephone line! Don’t these presumptuous mundane unholy law-botherers realize that? How dare they haul a bunch of priests to court?

A landmark hearing at the Supreme Court in London on Monday will consider who is responsible for compensating victims of child abuse by Catholic priests.

The case is being brought by 170 men who allege that they were sexually and physically abused at a Roman Catholic children’s home.

The High Court at Leeds and the Court of Appeal have already decided that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough is responsible for compensating victims of child abuse at the St William’s children’s home, Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, between 1960 and 1992.

On account of the former principal of that children’s home was found guilty of sexually assaulting 22 boys, some as young as 12. Did the church cry out in compassionate anguish and rush to do everything it could to compensate? No it did not. It did the other thing.

Compensation proceedings on behalf of claimants were started in 2004. Although two Roman Catholic organisations were involved in running the St William’s children’s home, both organisations have attempted to use legal technicalities to escape responsibility, a tactic mirrored in other Catholic child abuse cases.

Despite a series of shocking examples of Catholic priests being convicted over the past decade, the Catholic Church continues to argue that it is not responsible for abuse committed by its priests and officials. In the most recent example the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth attempted to argue that he was not responsible for compensating a victim of abuse by a priest named Father Baldwin, on the basis that he did not employ him but simply allowed him ministry in his Diocese. Unsurprisingly on 12th July 2012 the Court of Appeal decided that the Bishop was indeed responsible.

You see, this is that problem again – the fact that they constantly claim to be morally better than the rest of humanity, because of their churchness – their adherence to “church teachings” – when in fact they’re selfish self-protecting shits. They’re not compassionate, they’re not generous, they’re not other-regarding – they’re not good.

They seem to think nobody can see this. We can see it.



  1. says

    Fortunately it is extremely unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn the decision of the two lower courts. Also I don’t see the RCC would have grounds for appeal to the European Court as they would have to argue that some aspect of European Law was not being applied uniformly in the UK as compared with the rest of the EU, but they might try it on.

    However all the hearing will establish is the vicarious liability of the Diocese of Middlesbrough; it is a necessary ruling for compensation proceedings to continue, but does not constitute such proceedings. If the DoM has any sense it will settle the £8M compensation claim out of court, but the Roman Catholic hierarchy is not renowned for its good sense.

    Incidentally there is nothing about this case on the Diocese of Middlesbrough’s web site. I wonder why; it must be something to do with their policy of transparency and openness.

  2. says

    “Did the church cry out in compassionate anguish and rush to do everything it could to compensate? No it did not”

    Tracy McVeigh (The Observer, Sunday 15 November 2009)

    “A spokesman for the lay order said everyone had been left devastated by what had happened at St William’s. “It has affected everyone, it’s a terrible thing to have hanging over the order.” But a source close to the Catholic church said there was a desire to see the case settled once and for all, although there was concern that many of the men bringing the compensation claim may not be true victims but are “jumping on the bandwagon”.

    Roman Catholic church stalls on £8m child abuse claims via @guardian

    What a terrible shame it is for the order to have child sexual / physical abuse hanging over its holy head. When doubtless a lot of men who were in St. William’s have most probably either committed crimes and ended up in prison, due to lack of early training, or committed suicide and only God knows what other defeating things in life due lack of wherewithal. The Guardian bears this thinking out, as well as knowing from men like these who were incarcerated in similar religious hellholes. The church has the awful habit of making itself the victim. Reverse psychology at play.

    I wish all the men involved every success with the outcome of the landmark hearing at the Supreme Court in London on Monday. I hope it considers the diocese responsible for compensating victims of child abuse by Catholic priests.

  3. Gregory in Seattle says

    “… on the basis that he did not employ him but simply allowed him ministry in his Diocese.”

    My understanding is that, having given that permission, the bishop is obligated under canon law to provide hierarchic supervision. Whether or not the priest was drawing a salary or receiving other remuneration is irrelevant.

  4. says

    The bishops obligations under canon law are irrelevant to this case and only concern the inner workings of the RCC. Canon law is not enforceable in an English court, except in so far as it is deemed to be part of an employment contract; in any case one cannot sue for damages under canon law.

    The issue is whether the Diocese of Middlesbrough is vicariously liable for torts committed by priests of the diocese, as it would be if it were their employer. What is interesting about the High Court judgment is that it seems not to have ruled on the issue of whether the priest actually was an employee but to have ruled that the diocese is liable as if he were an employee. At least that’s my reading of it. I hasten to add that I am not a lawyer but I do have some experience representing people in industrial tribunals. This is not an entirely new idea as there have been cases of organisations being held liable for the actions of people they engage who are technically self-employed, but it is new in a religious setting.

  5. ismenia says

    I recall reading in a book on legal ethics about a case of clerical abuse where the victim tried to make peace with the Catholic school where he was abused after hearing that the offender had since been convicted of a similar offence. They still wouldn’t meet him or acknowledge that they were wrong not to believe him. After he went public they changed their position and blamed their lawyers saying that they had been advised not to admit liability.

    The story was illustrated with a satirical cartoon with a person saying, “if it hadn’t been for those nasty lawyers, that nice priest would have been a Christian.”

  6. GordonWillis says

    They seem to think nobody can see this.

    Well, they can’t, at any rate. I would rather say that they seem to think that no one can see that they are indeed compassionate etc, and that they are the epitome of god’s will on the the planet, and therefore cannot possibly be held responsible for the evil doings of particular individuals. Obviously, the Church doesn’t employ people. Well, it pays them of course, and gives them houses to live in, and appoints congregations for them to govern, but that’s only passing on the Sunday collection from mere believers who are, after all, the real employers. So clearly it’s the real employers who have to take responsibility, and if any one of them chooses to moan about the behaviour of this person or that, then obviously it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Church.

    The Church is just a trust, you see. Now, it does, admittedly, tell people that they will go to hell and suffer interminable misery if they don’t attend church and contribute to the funds, but, of course, it’s the church-goers’ responsibility: the Church cannot be blamed for merely telling the truth, after all, and if the church-goers agree to pay their priests, well, the Church will appoint priests for them (in perfectly good faith, you understand, knowing what’s best, as they naturally do, being guided by the absolute authority of Almighty God his very self). I mean, no one is forcing people to believe that they will suffer eternal torment. Even in the days of the Inquisition, people could obviously choose perfectly freely whether they paid their tithes or not. It’s not as though Church teachings have really twisted people’s minds and caused them to put their daughters into laundries, ha ha. No, the Church just tells people how it is really and truly, and leaves them to respond out of their own free will.

    Equally obviously, the Church, because it appoints its ministers in good faith, cannot be held responsible for the sinful behaviour of its appointees. No, all its ministers are merely members of the congregation of the Church, and it is not the fault of the Church itself if they behave according to their natural — well, natures. No, the Church does not employ them, it just, well, gives them a job, you understand, which of course is not at all the same. Even the cardinals and popes are not actually employed, except, of course, by the members of the congregation. No, wait a moment…No, it’s SIN to think anything that can’t possibly be true, and therefore They’re completely right.

    Anyway, given the purity and innocence and chastity and benevolence of the Church, it is very very wrong of people to complain and make nasty accusations, and really, it’s only reasonable that the Church should feel obliged to influence the government and the courts in order to protect its always purely and honourably discharged mission to enlighten the morally benighted and SAVE THE WORLD FROM ITSELF, for God’s sake…

  7. Paul W., OM says

    Responding in haste here, so I might be getting something wrong, but…

    if I understand the article correctly, this seems like a good thing—that the diocese is being held responsible—but it isn’t, or isn’t nearly enough, because there’s another option not mentioned.

    The Vatican should be held responsible.

    It’s great if the court rules that a priest is an employee of the diocese, but that’s not nearly enough.

    The courts must recognize that the dioceses are under control of the Vatican in a strong sense that makes them legally responsible for what the dioceses do.

    The Vatican’s main legal ploy is to claim that the dioceses are not under orders from the Vatican, and that the Vatican is not legally or financially responsible for their crimes.

    The Vatican essentially claims to be immune to prosecution for bishops’ crimes, and more important, immune to tort claims—e.g., they can’t be sued for civil damages when a bishop endangers children by harboring pedophiles, even though the Vatican consistently tells them to, on penalty of losing their jobs.

    That’s the elephant in the room, and it’s an enormous and evil bookkeeping scam and racket.

    It’s the central issue here.

    The heart of the problem is that the Vatican reminds bishops that they are bound by canon law, which the Vatican (the pope and the College of Cardinals) write, which is very much issuing orders, with penalties for failure to obey.

    Then the Vatican claims that those aren’t orders at all just some kind of “reminder” of what something happens to say, in case the bishops might be interested in that thing.

    Then the Vatican says that the bishops are not only not employees, but not contractors, not under orders in any substantive sense, and dioceses are not even part of the Roman Catholic church that’s headed by the Vatican in any sense that give the Vatican any legally significant control over what they do.

    In other words, the dioceses are exactly cut-outs in a racket, and racketeering laws clearly apply.

    That is the obvious truth that the Vatican wants to conceal, and to have legal decisions affirm the opposite of.

    It allows them to claim they can’t be sued, but let the dioces be sued into bankruptcy, so that anybody but the Vatican has to absorb the costs of their crimes.

    A diocese can go bankrupt and say that there’s just no money available to pay the debts they’ve incurred by being liable for torts, and all the money and assets of the vatican are shielded.

    Then, after the tortious debts are absorbed or eaten by someone else—anyone else, likely the victims—the Vatican can bail out the dioceses and resume business usual, as the owner/bosses they actually are, shielded by accounting tricks.

    It’s that bad. The Vatican really will let a diocese go bankrupt, so that victims can’t be paid what they’re owed, then come back later and “help out” the dioceses with their benevolent “charity.”

    That is, in practice they’ll let a diocese plead poverty, then come back and make sure the diocese isn’t really poor, when it’s too late for the victims to take advantage of the fact that the diocese is of course not broke, because it is of course able to rely on the Vatican for financial assistance—officially out of the goodness of the Vatican’s dear little heart, but actually because the diocese is a de facto wholly owned and thoroughly controlled subsidiary of the International Roman Catholic Church, Incorporated.

    The pretense that dioceses are resource-poor independent entities is used to force claimants to settle for shit, while preserving the actual ownership and control by the Vatican.

    That is absolutely racketeering, fraud, and a variety of other crimes for which any other organization in the world would get nailed and destroyed under RICO.

    So far, the legal system has avoided using RICO to nail this obvious criminal racket, and the major media have systematically failed to tell anyone what is going on.

    There’s a crucial vicious cycle there.

    As long as the media don’t make it clear that the Church is systematically engaged in major racketeering, especially around child abuse torts, it’s very difficult, politically, for prosecutors to claim that it is—it will appear to be some kind of bizarre anti-Catholic vendetta, and they know for sure that the Catholic Church will do every thing it can, which is a whole lot, to spin it that way and generate outrage against the prosecutors.

    And until the prosecutors are willing to call a spade a spade, the media are terrified of the Catholic church doing that to them—spinning it as some sort of horrible anti-Catholic liberal media conspiracy to malign, railroad, and destroy the Church.

    IIRC, it’s actually a bit worse and skeevier and even more rackety, legally, than what I just said.

    The dioceses and the Vatican have sometimes done a cute, incredibly rackety shuffle, where the dioceses claim that certain valued properties are somehow not? properties of the diocese, but of the Vatican, or conveniently “gift” those properties to the Vatican at just the right time, to exempt them from any possibility that tort claimants will force the diocese to sell them to pay claims, or give them to the claimants.

    And once the victims are forced to eat the dioceses’s debts, or more likely to settle out of court for a pittance, the Vatican conveniently gifts or loans them back to the diocese.

    Neat, huh?

    The Vatican gets all the control, and all the benefits and none of the liabilities of ownership.

    It’s a racket, pure and simple.

    And as yet, prosecutors will not go there.

    Whenever you see prosecutors establishing that priests or bishops are the responsibility of the diocese, think of that: are they also establishing that the Vatican is responsible for the dioceses?

    If not, something is terribly, terribly wrong.

  8. says

    Paul, while it would be nice to be able to sue the Vatican, there are considerable difficulties. The first is what do you do if the Vatican doesn’t pay up? But is is also not clear what the status of the Vatican is under English law and whether it is the sort of entity that could be sued.

    The Catholic dioceses are registered charities which means that they clearly can be sued. (Incidentally this means that every penny put into the collection plate counts as “giving to charity.”) It’s also much easier to track their responsibilities. For instance there is a canon law obligation placed on Catholics to support their local clergy. This is traditionally interpreted as meaning that Catholics should provide money to there diocese for this purpose. That’s why, unless a collection is announced as being for some other purpose, all collection monies go to the diocese. It is thus clear that irrespective of whether the dioceses employs the priests, it is at the very least the custodian of the monies used to pay them.


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