Catholic church claims no responsibility in child abuse case against priest
The Catholic church goes to the Court of Appeal on Wednesday (16 May) to reiterate its claim that it is not responsible for child abuse committed by its clergy.
The appeal is part of a civil action brought by Miss JGE (name withheld). She claims that she was sexually abused by a Catholic priest whilst resident in a children's home run by the church.
In November last year the High Court found that the church is responsible for the sexual misbehaviour of its clergy, a ruling which the church disputes. The church had claimed that, on a technicality of employment law, it could not be held vicariously responsible because there is no formal employment relationship with their priests.
But in the first hearing Mr Justice Macduff decided that the professional relationship between a priest and his bishop is sufficiently close so as to impose responsibility. The case involved the late Father Baldwin, a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth.
At the time of the alleged abuse he was 'vocations director' of the Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth and regularly visited The Firs children's home, in Waterlooville. JGE was admitted to the home in May 1970, aged seven. The home was run by an order of nuns, the English Province of Our Lady of Charity. Father Baldwin was encouraged to have contact with the children and was granted generous and unsupervised access to them.
JGE alleged that during these visits Father Baldwin sexually abused her both within the home, in a private sitting room set aside for visitors, and in the vestry of the adjoining church of St Michael and All Angels.
The allegations arose in May 2006 after police came 'cold calling' on her and others who they suspected may have been abused, whilst investigating Father Baldwin's activities after receiving complaints.
Father Baldwin died in 2006.
Following the judgment, the Bishop of Portsmouth defended the late Father Baldwin and reiterated the church's position.
The Right Reverend Crispian Hollis claimed that no similar organization had been held liable for the actions of its office holders.
He also claimed that JGE's was the only allegation against a priest who he described as being of 'unblemished character'. However, before his death Father Baldwin had been the subject of an extensive police investigation, based on allegations against him from at least three other alleged victims.
JGE's lawyer is Tracey Emmott of Emmott Snell, a specialist in working with legal claims arising from sexual abuse.
Tracey Emmott also represented a number of those abused in the notorious Jersey Haut de la Garenne children's home.
'While it may be an interesting point of law because there is no formal employment relationship between priests and their bishop, this challenge to the High Court ruling is likely to be deeply offensive to victims of clerical abuse,' - Tracey Emmott points out.
'Why should the church be treated any differently from normal employers who must face legal responsibility for wrongful actions of their employees?'
'Sadly the church has a history of child abuse allegations against priests, which will not go away. It publicly expresses a commitment to take sexual abuse seriously and to eradicate it.'
'Yet is chooses to challenge a high profile High Court ruling that finds the church is legally responsible for it.'
It is known that several others who claim abuse at the hands of Father Baldwin were also considering bringing civil claims against the church, depending on the outcome of this appeal.
The appeal is expected to last for one and a half days.