Catholic Church loses child sex abuse liability appeal

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A ruling that the Catholic Church can be held liable for the wrongdoings of its priests has been upheld.

Last year Mr Justice MacDuff decided in favour of a woman, now 47, who claimed she was raped and assaulted as a child by a priest of the Portsmouth Diocese.

The Court of Appeal has upheld this decision, which raises "an issue of wide general importance in respect of claims against the Catholic Church".

A diocese spokesman said the case was about "fundamental legal principles".

Start Quote

Being six and never being in a home, I didn't understand that that [the abuse] wasn't OK”

End Quote Claimant
'Religious freedom'

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, says she was assaulted as a child by the late Father William Baldwin, a priest of the Portsmouth Diocese, at a children's home in Hampshire run by an order of nuns.

Lawyers for the claimant said of the ruling in November 2011 that it was the first time a court had been asked to rule on whether the "relationship between a Catholic priest and his bishop is akin to an employment relationship".

After the latest hearing, the claimant's lawyer Tracey Emmott said: 'It is hoped that this ruling will now be accepted, and that victims of abuse by Catholic priests can be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

A spokesman for the diocese said: "This case is not, and has never been, about seeking to avoid or delay the payment of compensation to victims with valid claims.

"This case is about fundamental legal principles involving the very nature of civil society and religious freedom.

"It would be disastrous if, in seeking to provide redress for victims of harm, the law put intolerable new pressures on the voluntary sector.

"This judgement shows further thought and scrutiny are required before clarity in this regard can be established."

'Reliving nightmares'

The Court of Appeal judgement said the diocese could not appeal against the decision until a similar case at the Supreme Court on 23 July had been concluded.

Speaking after the original ruling last year, the alleged victim said: "I relive it in my nightmares. It doesn't go just because I'm not in a court room - because I know that when I go to sleep it will be there.

"Being six and never being in a home, I didn't understand that that [the abuse] wasn't OK.

"Because I'd never been around priests, I had no idea that that wasn't OK."

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