Landmark ruling over church responsibility after abuse claims

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THE HIGHEST court in the land has ruled against the Catholic Church in a row over whether it can be held responsible for the sexual abuse of a Waterlooville woman by one of its own priests.

The Supreme Court has refused to hear the Catholic Churches’ case that it could not be held responsible because the priest was not an ‘employee’.

The issue of responsibility arose after the woman, who can only be identified as Miss E, brought a civil action against the church.

She claimed she was abused in a children’s home run by the church and therefore the church has ‘vicarious liability’.

Miss E was admitted to The Firs in Waterlooville, run by an order of nuns, in May 1970, aged seven.

She alleges she was sexually abused by Father Wilfred Baldwin, a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, who died in 2006.

In November 2011, High Court judge Mr Justice Alistair MacDuffs ruled that the church is legally responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests.

The ruling of the Supreme Court has now settled the matter once and for all.

Peter Furlough, who represents the lawyers of the Waterlooville victim, said it was a ‘landmark case’.

He told The News: ‘The Supreme Court has refused the Catholic Church permission to make further appeals to it.

‘Therefore the Catholic Churches’ case is lost.

‘That’s to say they are responsible for the misbehaviour of their priests.

‘The Catholic Church were looking to use a loophole. They were arguing that because priests are technically self-employed the church could not be held responsible for their misbehaviour.

‘The Supreme Court was having none of it.’

Because the point of the law has now been settled, it means that other cases of alleged abuse by Father Baldwin can be heard.

Mr Furlough said there were known to be several ‘local’ victims.

He said: ‘It’s known there are a number of other cases involving the late Father Baldwin.

‘We should expect a number of other cases to come forward.

‘There’s a list of half a dozen or so that are known.’

He added: ‘It’s not possible for the church to go to Europe.

‘The Supreme court has refused even to hear it.

‘Therefore the case stops there and can’t go any further.’

He said the ruling would have an impact across the globe in similar cases.

Mr Furlough said: ‘It’s a precedent in English law.

‘It will have impact internationally such as the United States.

‘They will be guided by decisions given elsewhere.’