måndag 14 november 2011

Paedophile clerics - who should pay?

The recent decision by the courts, that priests are in effect employees and answerable to their bishops, raises two concerns. These will presumably be considered by the appeal court to whom the matter has now been referred.

First, there is the substance of the complaints themselves. Many of these relate to incidents long ago. The principal actors are in many cases long dead and cannot be cross-examined. There is a lot of money at stake. How can genuine victims be distinguished from gold-diggers?

Second, in the event of damages being awarded, who should be responsible for paying?

Parishioners contribute to the church's funds, and it appears that these are held by trustees under rules set by the Charity Commissioners. Is compensation for actions due to a bishop's negligence a proper use of these funds?

There would be a good case to argue that they are not. Most people would not give money to the church if they thought it was going to be used for such a purpose. In effect, it would be to underwrite the actions of the bishop, over whose appointment and actions they had no control. Dissatisfaction with bishops is widespread, with concerns about matters that extend well beyond the misbehaviour of what is still, fortunately, a tiny minority of priests.

In a hierarchical body such as the church, the chain of accountability is upwards, so that responsibility for the actions of a bishops must surely lie with whoever appointed him. Or could the liability be personal?

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