THE Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth has criticised a High Court judgement that ruled the church could be held responsible for sexual abuse by one of its priests.
The Rt Rev Crispian Hollis said there were ‘clear problems’ with the ruling in the case between a woman, who can only be identified as JGE and the late Father Wilfred Baldwin, who she says abused her at The Firs in Waterlooville, a children’s home run by an order of nuns, in the 1970s.
The case against the church rested on whether it could be held responsible for the actions of its priests. Last week, the High Court found in favour that it could.
The bishop said: ‘The primary reason that we are defending this claim is that, at the time the claimant was resident at the home, Father Baldwin was based at the other end of the diocese and had no connection with the children’s home. The diocese does not therefore accept the claimant’s allegations against Father Baldwin.’
He added: ‘The claimant has the benefit of a court order whereby she cannot be identified; unfortunately, the same consideration has not been extended to Father Baldwin, who was a priest of unblemished character until these allegations were made.’
He said the diocese was still deciding whether to appeal.
The woman’s solicitor Tracey Emmott said: ‘This effectively reinforces the public perception that the church doesn’t care and is once again trying to avoid responsibility.
‘I question his assertion that the legal case concluded last week involved the only allegation against a priest who he describes as being of unblemished character.
‘In fact before his death Father Baldwin was the subject of an extensive police investigation, based on allegations against him from at least three other alleged victims.’