Catholic Church Denies Legal Responsibility For Abuse

A hearing into whether the church has the same legal obligations towards priests as employers towards employees, could have massive ramifications.

The Roman Catholic Church is taking the unprecedented step of arguing in court that is is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests, arguing that the relationship between a Catholic priest and the bishop of the local diocese is not an employment relationship and therefore the diocese does not have vicarious liability.

There have been thousands of accusations around the world of abuse by priests but the majority of legal cases have been settled out of court or withdrawn.

This is thought to be the first time that the Church has gone to court to defend itself against accusations specificially relating to liability.

The three day hearing, started last Tuesday, is part of a wider civil action being brought by a woman known only as Miss JGE.

She claims to have been sexually abused while living in a children’s home run an order of nuns, the English Province of Our Lady of Charity.

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

The claim in that case, due to start in December, will be that the nuns were negligent and in breach of duty, and that the diocese was vicariously liable for the abuse because Father Baldwin was a Catholic priest engaged within the work of the Portsmouth diocese.

However the hearing this week will not deal with the allegations of abuse at all, but will centre on the ‘corporate responsibility’ of the church in abuse cases.

If the claim is upheld, the church will be found legally responsible for the sexual abuse committed by their priests.

The solicitor representing Miss JGE, Tracey Emmott, said: “The most astonishing point to me to emerge from this tragic and sordid case is that the Catholic church is claiming that it isn’t legally responsible for the behaviour of its own priest.

“We need to show that while Father Baldwin wasn’t strictly an employee of the church, he was acting on the bishop’s behalf and that the bishop clearly had a degree of control over his activities.”

Ms Emmott said that the consequences of the Catholic Church winning the point was that they would be able to avoid compensating all victims of sexual abuse by priests.

The Catholic Church and the Portsmouth Diocese said they would not comment until the end of the hearing.

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Order accuses Father Corapi of sexual, financial wrongdoing, falsehoods

Father John A. Corapi was involved in “years of cohabitation” with a former prostitute, repeated abuse of alcohol and drugs and “serious violation” of his promise of poverty, according to a fact-finding team appointed by his religious order.

Father Corapi, who recently announced he would leave the priesthood because he could not get a “fair hearing” on misconduct allegations against him, has been ordered by the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity to return to live at the order’s regional headquarters in Robstown, Texas, and to dismiss a lawsuit against the woman whose accusations prompted the investigation.

“Catholics should understand that (the order) does not consider Father John Corapi as fit for ministry,” said a July 5 news release from Father Gerard Sheehan, regional priest servant for the order, commonly known as SOLT.

Although Father Corapi’s ministry “has inspired thousands of faithful Catholics,” the news release said, he is “now misleading these individuals through his false statements and characterizations.”

“It is for these Catholics that SOLT, by means of this announcement, seeks to set the record straight,” it added.

There was no immediate response to the announcement from Father Corapi.

The order said its three-member fact-finding team had gathered information “from Father Corapi’s emails, various witnesses and public sources” and had concluded that the priest:

— “Did have sexual relations and years of cohabitation (in California and Montana) with a woman known to him, when the relationship began, as a prostitute.”

— “Repeatedly abused alcohol and drugs.”

— “Has recently engaged in sexting activity with one or more women in Montana.”

— “Holds legal title to over $1 million in real estate, numerous luxury vehicles, motorcycles, an ATV, a boat dock and several motor boats, which is a serious violation of his promise of poverty as a perpetually professed member of this society.”

Although he did not name them, Father Sheehan said the fact-finding team was made up of a priest specializing in canon law, a psychiatrist and a lawyer, each of whom has a national reputation and “substantial experience in ecclesiastical processes related to priest disciplinary issues.”

Two of the three were members of religious orders, and the third was a layperson. Two were men and one was a woman, he said.

As the team was carrying out its work, Father Corapi filed a civil suit against his principal accuser and then offered $100,000 for her silence, the news release said. Other key witnesses who “may have negotiated contracts … that precluded them from speaking” with the team declined to answer its questions or provide documents, it said.

When the fact-finding team asked Father Corapi to dismiss the lawsuit and release individuals from their contractual obligations to remain silent, “he refused to do so and, through his canonical advocate, stated, ‘It is not possible for Father Corapi to answer the commission’s questions at this time,'” the news release added.

Father Corapi, 64, announced June 17 — two days before the 20th anniversary of his priestly ordination — in a YouTube video and blog posting that he would leave the priesthood.

“For 20 years I did my best to guard and feed the sheep,” he said in the blog posting. “Now, based on a totally unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation from a demonstrably troubled person I was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. I accept that. Perhaps I deserve that.”

Father Corapi had been highly visible for several years as a speaker and preacher, including a program on the Eternal Word Television Network. EWTN took his show off its schedule shortly after his suspension, saying it would not knowingly put on the air a priest whose faculties had been suspended.

The SOLT news release said Father Sheehan would not be available for further comment because of the order’s general chapter July 5-23.

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Dutch bishop investigated for alleged abuse in Kenya

The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office in Arnhem is investigating whether there is enough evidence to prosecute Bishop Cornelius Schilder for the sexual abuse of an underage boy in Kenya 18 years ago, a spokesperson has confirmed to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Bishop Schilder, now living near the Dutch village of Oosterbeek, has been interrogated by the police, according to an insider. On Monday his lawyer told RNW that Schilder denies all allegations against him.

The Dutch Public Prosecutor launched an investigation after a report surfaced earlier this year through the Deetman Commission, which is researching abuse in the Dutch Catholic Church.

Complicated

The Commission refused to comment directly on the matter, but confirmed that it submits serious complaints to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The police officially logged the accusation following a request to investigate from the Public Prosecutor.

Spokesperson Ellen Prummel confirmed that the Arnhem Public Prosecutor’s vice squad is considering whether or not the case “truly indicates a criminal offence, and if there are enough leads to warrant further investigation”.

Prummel could not confirm how long this will take. The fact that the victim is living in Kenya and has not notified the police in the Netherlands makes it a “complicated case.” It is also unclear whether the abuse happened too long ago to be prosecuted under Dutch law.

‘Passed on’

The accuser, 32-year-old Michael ole Uka, claims he was abused for years by various foreign priests in Kenya. He came forward in 2005 and informed the church authorities of his allegations when he suffered such severe injuries from abuse that he required urgent medical treatment.

The treatment was paid for by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the congregation to which the accused priests and Dutch bishop belong. Uka also received financial compensation and further aid.

The congregation expatriated an Irish priest involved in the abuse. Mill Hill has relieved the priest of his duties but is still waiting for a Vatican decision to laicise him.

Uka says the abuse started when he was seven years old.

Several members of the clergy allegedly ‘passed him on’ to each other.

The abusers paid Uka’s school fees, which made him feel obliged to permit the abuse, although he says: “I knew it was wrong what they were doing.”

In addition to Schilder, Uka says he was also abused by another Dutch priest who has since passed away.

“He gave me a coffee, showed me my room and started touching me immediately” says Uka, describing his first encounter with Cornelius Schilder.

Touch him

Uka told of his apparent ordeal in a documentary shown on Irish television last month and says the bishop began abusing him in 1993 when he was 14 years old.

At the time, Schilder was a priest in the Kenyan diocese of Ngong.

In 2003, he was promoted to bishop in Ngong.

“He asked me whether this other priest had touched me as well, and I said yes. Then he told me to touch him too and do the same things I had done to the other priest. At the time I thought all priests did these kinds of things.”

The documentary on the Irish RTE network also quoted the father superior of the Mill Hill Missionaries, Anthony Chantry.

According to Chantry, the case has not been reported to the Kenyan police because homosexuality is still a crime in Kenya.

Serious conversation

Mill Hill earlier told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that a congregation official in Kenya had discussed the accusations with both the bishop and the victim.

It was then decided to ask the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Kenya and the Papal Nuncio, the Ambassador to the Vatican in Nairobi, to conduct an ecclesiastical investigation.

Both declined to take action.

After repeated failed requests by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the Vatican finally intervened three years later, according to an insider.

In August 2009 the Dutch bishop was summoned to Rome for a “very serious conversation”.

He did not return to Kenya but went into immediate retirement in a Mill Hill home in the Dutch town of Oosterbeek.

False and inappropriate

Rome’s official line is that Bishop Schilder has health problems.

Since 2009 he has no longer been allowed to carry out the duties of a bishop and as a priest he has been placed under supervision of Mill Hill.

This makes him the first Dutch bishop to be punished by the Vatican for sexual abuse of a minor.

As Michael ole Uka sees it, justice has not been done. His life has been ruined, “while the bishop enjoys his pension in Europe”.

Bishop Schilder denies the accusation and has until now been unwilling to speak to the media.

On Monday, however, he told RNW via his lawyer that “Michael ole Uka’s accusation of sexual abuse is false.”

Bishop Schilder also added that he “considers it inappropriate to issue a statement as long as an investigation is ongoing.”

He says he regrets that the media have publicised the matter before investigations are completed.

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Father Bob ‘pressured to quit’ post

VICTORIAN of the Year Father Bob Maguire says he is being made to quit his post as parish priest against his will, and that his ejection could unravel his community work.

Father Maguire is due to step down as parish priest at South Melbourne’s Church of St Peter and St Paul on February 1 next year, as he agreed in a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, in 2009.

But the celebrity Catholic priest said yesterday that he was ”pressured” into writing the letter and in fact wants to remain in the job beyond that date, as his position as parish priest is integral to the church’s work in the community.

”Why would you go to the trouble of breaking up the relationship when in fact everybody seems to be agreeing that it’s a bloody good thing?” he said.

Father Maguire resisted an attempt by Archbishop Hart two years ago to nudge him into retirement upon his 75th birthday, winning an extension in the role until February 1, 2012.

”In 2009 I was pressured into signing a letter of resignation,” he said. ”I turned 75 and [Archbishop Hart] said ‘look, the custom now is to offer your resignation and if you offer it, I’ll take it’. So I said, ‘I don’t know that I’ll offer it’.”

Father Maguire – best known for his appearances on TV and radio alongside comedian John Safran, but also for his work with the homeless and the poor – said he could not understand why he was being singled out for retirement when many Catholic priests continue to work well beyond the age of 75.

But Archbishop Hart said the move was ”consistent with canon law, which asks a priest who turns 75 to offer his resignation”.

”While there may be older parish priests in Victoria their appointment is dependent on the assessment by the local bishop of the circumstances of the priest, parish and diocese,” the archbishop added.

Now 77 but still committed to his church and community work, Father Maguire questioned whether it was his attention-grabbing style, rather than his age, behind the move.

”Maybe the Roman style currently prevailing in the Catholic Church thinks that I’m a bogan,” he said.

Father Maguire was named Victorian of the Year last week for his community service work.

He dedicated the award to his parishioners, saying they had joined him in reaching out to the local community, especially those living in South Melbourne’s public housing estate.

Archbishop Hart also praised Father Maguire’s community work, saying he had ”thoroughly deserved the Victorian of the Year award”.

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Austrian cardinal silent on sex abuse

A cardinal with the Roman Catholic Church in Austria has been accused of keeping silent about a sexual abuse case when he was a bishop in 1994.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna is the target of a lawsuit brought by a woman who charges that the prelate failed to respond to a plea for help.

The 45-year-old woman said that she asked for help in 1994, at a time when the future cardinal was serving as an auxiliary bishop in Vienna.

A spokesman for Cardinal Schonborn said that the cardinal would have taken action if he had heard serious complaints.

He described the meeting between Schonborn and the allegedly molested woman as a confessional conversation.

The spokesman also said that the Klasnic commission, which was established by Schonborn last year, financed therapy sessions for the woman.

Nearly 1,000 people contacted the commission. Nearly three quarters of victims that decided to report to the body are men, according to Die Presse newspaper.

The paper also reports that many of the victims abstained from asking for money but demanded apologies instead.

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