Letter: Errant clergy

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The Independent Online
CLARE GARNER ("The priests who fell to Earth", 30 March) raises important issues, most particularly the Catholic Church's continual denial of vicarious liability with regard to errant priest behaviour.

There is an absence of clear judicial precedent in the relationship between church and priest. The Church insists, that the priest is not an employee. However, it is arguable that a monk is acting under the direction of the abbot, or the priest under the bishop, which may at law give rise to vicarious responsibility.

For people on legal aid, this refusal to acknowledge responsibility can be disastrous. When the Church gets struck out as second defendants, the priest's legal representatives immediately inform you that the priest (the first defendant) cannot meet a judgment on the grounds of having no money. The victim is then obliged to inform the Legal Aid Board and risk having her legal aid certificate discharged. This effectively brings the case to a close. The opportunity to identify a problem priest is missed and the public remain at risk.

It is common ground that the priest is only in post by virtue of his appointment by the bishop, or the monk by the abbot. The Church selects, trains, ordains, appoints, authorises to counsel and reappoints. It has, in all respects, a disciplinary function over a priest and control over his welfare.

This imposes on the Church a fiduciary duty to monitor and supervise in order to prevent harm occurring. However, when protection and cover- ups are not successful, it would seem, the Church is protected by a legal system which still does not hold it responsible.

Perhaps it is time for it to rethink before judgments such as the pounds 73m against the Catholic Church in Texas travel across the Atlantic.


London W11