Court rules that Catholic church is responsible for child abuse by clergy

Court rules that Catholic church is responsible for child abuse by its clergy

The High Court in London has ruled that the Catholic church is responsible for child abuse committed by its clergy.

The judgment comes in a civil action brought by Miss JGE (name withheld), who claims to have been sexually abused by a Catholic priest whilst resident in a children's home run by the church.

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 Mr Justice Macduff decided that the professional relationship between a priest and his bishop is sufficiently close so as to impose responsibility.

The case involves 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 alleges 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.

JGE's 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. The hearing to determine the church's responsibility took place over two days during July, but judgment was withheld.

A trial had been scheduled for December, but given the delay it will now be rescheduled for some time next year.

JGE's lawyer is Tracey Emmott of Emmott Snell, a specialist in working with legal claims arising from sexual abuse.

Tracey Emmott also represents a number of those abused in the notorious Jersey Haut de la Garenne children's home. 'There seems to be a significant discrepancy between the position claimed by the Catholic church and the way it conducts its defence when legal proceedings are brought,' says Tracey Emmott.

'Whilst the church appears to pay lip service to the idea of transparency in confronting the ugly and sordid activities of some of its clergy, its lawyers are attempting to use every cynical loop hole open to them to avoid accepting responsibility.

I find it astonishing that the Catholic church can actually claim that it has no interest in or responsibility for the sexual degradations committed against children by its own clergy.'

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 case.

One of them, 'Anne', says of her experiences: 'As children, we weren't given an innocent, carefree and safe environment. We weren't given a peaceful structure in which to grow and develop normally. Instead we lived in the hands of evil, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. They left us in a permanent black abyss, filled with indelible, haunting nightmares. 'By some miracle, some of us are still here to voice the words of so many who can't. Only a small number of victims ever come forward. We go through life, troubled and with our spirits broken. The full potential of who we could have been as adults has been stolen.'