Thinking Anglicans

Court rules on RC priest/bishop relationship

Updated again Monday evening

A High Court judge has ruled that a Roman Catholic bishop may be held vicariously liable for the acts of one of his priests, even though the priest is an office holder rather than an employee. There are reports that the ruling will be appealed.*

The full text of the judgment is available here (PDF).

A good explanation of the case by Adam Wagner at UK HumanRights Blog Bishop can be vicariously liable for priest’s sex abuse, rules High Court

Press reports:

Guardian Riazat Butt Catholic church can be held responsible for wrongdoing by priests

BBC High Court rules Catholic Church liable over priests

Independent Jerome Taylor Catholic church liable over priests

Channel 4 News Catholic church liable for priests charged with abuse

Updates
Neil Addison has written about this case at Religion Law Blog under the headline Catholic Bishops and Vicarious Liability for Priests.

The RC Bishop of Portsmouth, Crispian Hollis, issued a statement, available here as a PDF, or over here, which inter alia made clear that no decision had yet been taken about whether or not to appeal this decision.

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Bruce Bryant-ScottMalcolm French+MarkBrunsonTobias HallerAntony Recent comment authors
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robert ian williams
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robert ian williams

Has anyone sued a local education authority over an abusing teacher? This to me, whilst tragic and unforgiveable..looks like persecution.

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

The same ploy was tried by the CofE some years ago in order to avoid employment law. It didn’t work then and shouldn’t work for the RC Church. The description of priests as ‘office holders’ is an evasion of the responsibility of their superiors and those pay, manage and deploy them and must not be allowed to stand. Hurrah for the High Court.

Marshall Scott
Guest

Robert, I don’t know about England, but in the United States educational authorities are regularly sued over the misdeeds of a teacher. You might look at reports of abuse of children by a football coach at Pennsylvania State University (commonly called Penn State). The coach is liable for his actions; but his superiors are probably also likely to be liable for their failure to act when first informed of the abuse. Similar suits have also come in other areas: when there are alleged misdeeds by a physician, suits against the hospital, other physicians, nurses, and others are common. They aren’t… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

“Respondeat superior.” Either the bishop is an authority over the priest or he isn’t. Unless the RCC handles things very differently to the US in the UK, I take it that the bishop has a good deal to say about the work of the priests under his jurisdiction — unless they are “religious” clergy, in which case their Order may have the responsibility lodged with them. Marshall’s note about the standards for determining “employment” are likely relevant. In the “traditio instrumentorum” the bishop quite literally “equips” the priest for at least one aspect of his work.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

And in Britain it’s common practice to sue a hospital or the NHS for the failings of an individual doctor.

Robert ian Williams
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Robert ian Williams

I see your point Marshall. imagine if a woman claiming to be a priest and tried to operate in a Catholic parish and she claimed that the Bishop was not her employer and he couldn’t stop her.

I think the Church were wrong to use this approach…it could backfire and it is almost disingenuous.

Simon Dawson
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Simon Dawson

“I think the Church were wrong to use this approach…it could backfire and it is almost disingenuous.”

Patience is a virtue. I knew that if I waited long enough then Robert would make a statement about the Roman Catholic Church which I would agree with, and that great day has arrived.

Best wishes Robert.

Simon

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

Fair warning to those seeking to invent a hierarchy in TEC as a ‘national church’ with metropolitical authority in a single office of PB (which seems to be stalling in the light of Title IV questions, at least for a season). We held a conference on comparative polity two years ago and this was pointed out. Hierarchy comes with accountability and legal exposure for matters like sexual misconduct. The Diocese of Dallas at last Saturday’s Diocesan Convention reiterated the position of the TEC Constitution on the role of Dioceses in discipline, as stipulated in Article XI. Where Title IV is… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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I guess that certain of the bishops – of whatever Church – are keen to preserve their authority over their clergy – until something happens that renders them ‘responsible at law’ for their adverse behaviour.

A true Bishop will remain with his/her sheep, and the under-shepherds; encouraging and correcting where circumstances (and the Holy Spirit) direct.

The R.C. Church, in general, has always considered itself immune to secular authority – as witness the appalling statistics of child-abuse.

Father Ron Smith
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Christopher Seitz seems not to accord to the Presiding Bishop of TEC the status that is due the nomenclature of her office.

Surely the ‘President’ presides over something? Whether this is the House of Bishops or the General Convention, the title has implication.

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

Mr Smith My comment should not have been hard to understand. The PB in TEC presides at General Convention and HOB and has other duties explained in the TEC Constitution. My point was that if there is success in changing the PB’s role–and that is being tested in this season–there will be attendant accountability such as is the topic of this thread. But that has not happened. But it could. At present, the TEC Constitution gives to Dioceses the authority/duty to discipline Priests and Deacons, consistent with its understanding of the role of Dioceses. The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas has… Read more »

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

Given the topic of the thread I should probably also add the obvious, in the light of recent developments. When Bishop of Nevada, the present PB received into Orders a man who had been dismissed from the Roman Catholic Priesthood, who had sexually abused boys in a choir he oversaw, and whose psychiatric report indicated a proclivity to re-offend. She has never responded in public about this. One suspects there is nothing she can say. I would seriously doubt that this kind of use of her Episcopal office in 2004 is elevating her role at the present moment in the… Read more »

MarkBrunson
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As much as I dislike Seitz’s views and purpose, personally, I think he is simply making the point, here, that acknowledging the primatial status of the PB opens TEC to having a primate held legally accountable for Bede Parry’s sexual misconduct. I tend to agree, but believe that justice done in this outweighs even church.

The Dallas thing is . . . whatever.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

I still find it rather sad that an Anglican academic in Canada (Mr.Seitz) should so consistently seek to denigrate the Presiding Bishop of another Province of the Communion (TEC) by repeating scandal about one of the clergy she accepted into the Church when Bishop of Nevada. As a priest (presumably) Mr. Seitz must surely understand that bishops are not always privy to a full run-down on the sexual history of one of their proffered ordinands. And, even if there was some shadow of doubt about the provenance of an ordinand, sometimes charity has to be called into play to give… Read more »

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

To clarify re: Brunson. 1. The PB does not have metropolitical authority and Title IV appeared to encroach on that, and so on the TEC Constitution, in respect of discipline. Hence the constitutional action in the Diocese of Dallas. So this is not about ‘acknowledging’ something, but rather seeking to make an unconstitutional change and having it blunted. Even Executive Council member Fr Harris has called for a necessary Title IV review at GC 2012. 2. Frankly, as it stands, Title IV can reach to the PB regardless of alleged claims re: changing the PB’s role. Indeed, as written, Title… Read more »

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

Mr Smith For the avoidance of doubt, I am canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. I have been a clergyman in TEC for thirty years. I am Canon Theologian in my Diocese. My father, uncle, grandfather, and two brothers have served as Priests and theologians in TEC. I am not speaking of ‘another Province’ but of my own. I will leave it to others to decide whether it was prudent to receive into Orders a man who had been dismissed from the Priesthood, whose psychiatric report was read by Nevada officials, and who had confessed to sexual misconduct.… Read more »

Susannah
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Susannah

Am I missing something here? If a Church (be it the Catholic Church or say, the Church of England) operates a whole structure and organisation countrywide, including the power to dismiss priests, to intervene in matters would bring the Church into disrepute, and to provide all kinds of youthwork in the name of the Church… then surely there is already a form of line-hierarchy and furthermore, there SHOULD be a form of line-hierarchy, to provide a responsible consistency of procedures, of oversight of young people, of processes to handle complaints, and to exercise as far as possible a duty of… Read more »

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

I fear I am repeating myself. Susannah, of course this will be so in ‘line-hierarchy’ provinces where the top of the line may well be an Archbishop (so C of E). There will be challenges there, too, in respect of legal accountability, as the thread indicates. But TEC has a Presiding Bishop with carefully specified powers and duties. The dioceses are charged by TEC constitution to discipline Priests and Deacons. TEC has no ecclesiastical court as the C of E does. To introduce a ‘line-hierarchy’ is a departure from TEC Constitution, though it may be familiar to you and something… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

From your striving above, Mr.Seitz, to advise us all of the polity of TEC regarding the role of the P.B., it seems that you, too, would not be keen on TEC joining up with the Covenant movement – lest the non-hierarchical faculty you discern as unique within TEC become subject to the same hierarchical polity of, e.g., the Churches of England and certain African Churches whose Primates ‘rule the roost’.
Question: Are you a Covenant supporter?

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

Mr Smith TEC has historically been a diocesan church. The Presiding Bishop was a Diocesan Bishop until the middle of the last century. There was historically the avoidance of a metropolitical/national hierachical polity. That is the TEC many of us do not wish to change. The Presiding Bishop is just that, and not an Archbishop/Metropolitan. I don’t think TEC should covenant or will covenant, because mutual submission in Christ is at odds with a self-identity as prophetic and special. This thread is not on TEC or covenant, but obviously a great many people would argue that the covenant is not… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Guest

While I haven’t studied the matter in detail, it’s fairly clear that the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is, canonically, one of the least powerful (if not the least powerful) of the Primates. Which, of course, caused additional problems at Primates meetings, where some Primates with great authority presumed that +KJS’s signature constituted a commitment to force TEC to adhere to certain things when, of course, +KJS had no such power. IIRC, Chris and his friends from that side of the aisle were quick to jump on +KJS with allegations of duplicity when she declined to assert powers she… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Does that mean, then, Mr. Seitz, that you would not have TEC sign up to the Covenant – under any circumstances – whether liberalised or not? It would be good to hear from a ‘non-aligned’ onlooker like yourself; who is actually inside TEC.

Antony
Guest
Antony

“The R.C. Church, in general, has always considered itself immune to secular authority – as witness the appalling statistics of child-abuse.”

“Father” Ron is, as usual, not very honest about facts. I suppose he is well aware of the many statistics and reports, from the John Jay report and onwards, that show that sexual abuse is just as common (or as rare in percentage of clergy) in protestant denominations as in the Catholic Church! However the homosexual aspect seems to have been higher in the Catholic Church than in protestant denominations!

Tobias Haller
Guest

Malcolm, I seem to recall a certain English Archbishop expressing similar feelings about his own freedom of action to make commitments on behalf of his church, or to take positions independent of it! I think it is generally understood that Bishops, and even Primates, are only authorized to teach what the(ir) church teaches, and enforce the laws each church has crafted. Even the papal scope of “Infallibility” is limited to that sort of contextualization. As the past president of the League of Women Religious once observed, the pope can insist that all religious follow their rules concerning the habit, but… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

Thank you for your opinion, *yet again*, Dr Seitz.

Marketing requires repetition, yes?

Malcolm French+
Guest

Agreed, Tobias. But referring back to Christopher’s earlier point, it appears to me that the Presiding Bishop of TEC has far less canonical authority on most matters as compared to many (most?) other primates.

Bruce Bryant-Scott
Guest
Bruce Bryant-Scott

In Canada we have lived with vicarious liability for churches since at least 1998. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s there were thousands of law-suits leveled against the dioceses and General Synod by survivors of abuse at church-run Indian Residential Schools. It led to one diocese suspending operations, and nearly did in the General Synod. There were also law-suits against Presbyterians, RC religious orders, and the United Church of Canada. As the federal government of Canada were the ones that set up the schools for the churches to operate, they had ultimate responsibility, but judges apportioned vicarious liability… Read more »