The English diocese of Portsmouth is contemplating an appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court following a judgement that it can be held vicariously liable for alleged wrongdoings of a priest.
The diocese says the decision, by two out of three judges in the Court of Appeal, has “far-reaching implications” for faith and other voluntary organisations.
The judges upheld a High Court decision in favour of a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted as a child by the late Father Wilfred Baldwin at a children’s home.
The priest was never convicted of any abuse and the diocese says it does not accept the allegation.
The High Court ruled that a priest is not an employee of a bishop, but should be treated by the law as “akin to an employee”.
The three Court of Appeal judges all commented on the difficulty of reaching a decision. They also referred to the wide-reaching ramifications of the decision, not just for the Church but for other organisations, both charitable and commercial.
But Lord Justice Ward wrote: “Father Baldwin is more like an employee than an independent contractor. He is in a relationship with his bishop, which is close enough, and so akin to employer/employee as to make it just and fair to impose vicarious liability . . . .”
He said a similar case is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal this month.
The diocese found liable said it took the appeal “to achieve clarity as to the nature and extent of the bishop’s liability for the actions of diocesan priests”, not to avoid or delay paying compensation to victims with valid claims.
“This case is about fundamental legal principles involving the very nature of civil society and religious freedom,” the diocese said. “It would be disastrous if, in seeking to provide redress for victims of harm, the law put intolerable new pressures on the voluntary sector.”
Image: The Guardian
News category: World.