Liberals and secularists rail against bishops who are too restrictive or who are perceived to be too controlling. If a bishop actually seeks to govern, they accuse him of being authoritarian, mean-spirited, backward. On the other hand, they think that bishops can and ought to control every possible aspect of the lives of priests and want to hold them liable for every thing a priest does… unless, of course, the priest is a good and faithful priest, sticking to the Church’s teachings and sound practices.
I read with a measure of horror that in England a court ruled that bishops can be help responsible for crimes priests might commit. I wonder if a judge in England might be liable for the crimes committed by, say, a research assistant helping with cases. The analogy is not perfect, but still I wonder about that. Is a judge’s assistant employed by the judge? A priest, however, is not generally employed by the bishop. Most priests in the USA are, I think, self-employed. I don’t know what the status is in England but I am guessing that it is similar.
From The Catholic Herald:
Court rules that Church is liable for crimes of priests
By Simon Caldwell on Thursday, 10 November 2011
A court has ruled that the Catholic Church can be held legally liable for the crimes of abusive clergy.
The ruling by the High Court in London for the first time defined in British law the relationship of a priest to his bishop as that of an employee to an employer, instead of seeing the priest as effectively self-employed.
This means that a bishop and a diocese can be punished for the crimes of a priest. Survivors’ groups hope that it will also mean that many people who claim to have been abused by clergy will be able to claim compensation more easily.
The court granted the trustees of the Diocese of Portsmouth extra time to appeal the decision.
The case involves a 47-year-old mother of three, referred to only by the initials JGE, who claims she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Fr Wilfred Baldwin as a seven-year-old girl in The Firs children’s home in Waterlooville, in southern England, in the early 1970s.
She claims that she also was attacked in the dressing room of a church on the day she made her first Communion.
Besides the Diocese of Portsmouth, she is also seeking damages from the English province of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, which ran the home, because she said the nuns witnessed the abuse but did not intervene.
The court was not asked to judge the truth of the allegations but was specifically asked, as a preliminary hearing on the case, to rule on the question of whether the “relationship between a Catholic priest and his bishop is akin to an employment relationship”.
Justice Alistair MacDuff said that although the priest had no formal contract of employment there were “crucial features” that made a bishop vicariously liable for his actions.
He said the Church gave Fr Baldwin the “premises, the pulpit and the clerical robes” and that he was given full authority and free rein in the community to “act as a representative of the church.”
“Whether or not the relationship may be regarded as ‘akin to employment,’ the principal features of the relationship dictate that the defendants should be held responsible for the actions which they initiated by the appointment and all that went with it,” said the judge.
Is this just an attack on religion in the public square?