The victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church in Britain are now one step closer to winning compensation due a High Court ruling in London.
In a landmark ruling Justice Macduff ruled that the diocese of Portsmouth was “vicariously liable” for the acts of a priest who repeatedly raped a seven-year-old girl in the 1970s.
The woman, who is now a mother, was referred to in the courts papers as JGE. She is seeking damages for personal injury for the abuse that was carried out at the Firs Children’s Home, in Waterlooville, Hampshire.
The legal team working for the diocese argued that Father Baldwin, who died August 2006 aged 75, was self employed. They also argued that the diocesan bishop had no powers to dismiss priests as this can only be done by the Vatican.
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Justice Macduff ruled that although there was no formal contract between the Baldwin and the church there were features with the position that were “akin to employment”.
In his written ruling he said “Father Baldwin was appointed by and on behalf of the defendants.
“He was so appointed in order to do their work; to undertake the ministry on behalf of the defendants for the benefit of the church.
“He was given the full authority of the defendants to fulfil that role. He 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 representative of the church.
“He had been trained and ordained for that purpose. He had immense power handed to him by the defendants.
“It was they who appointed him to the position of trust which (if the allegations be proved) he so abused.”
Lord Faulks QC, speaking on behalf of diocese, said the Catholic Church was not seeking to evade responsibility for pedophile priests.
He told the London Independent: "My clients take sexual abuse extremely seriously and are very concerned to eradicate and investigate it…This case has been brought as a point of law that has never been decided."
A campaign group which represents survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, MACSAS, welcomed the ruling. They released a statement which read “MACSAS contends that the rhetoric coming from the Catholic Church about wanting to meet the needs of victims of child abuse perpetrated within the Church is entirely contradicted by the refusal to talk to victims or to acknowledge the harm caused to them by clergy abuse, as they continue to fight to avoid liability within the courts”.
The Catholic Church has been given leave to appeal the ruling. This landmark ruling potentially opens the floodgates for compensation claims.
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