Tom Doyle’s Comments on Landmark Decision by the High Court of Justice in London, England

I received the following commentary by Tom Doyle by email.

* * *

Landmark Decision by the High Court of Justice in London, England

November 8, 2011

This morning the British High Court announced a decision in a case that will have a lasting and historic impact on the ability of British victims of clergy sexual abuse to find justice. The case before the court involved a claim by a woman, now aged 47, who had been raped by a priest named Baldwin. Father Baldwin was an appointed chaplain at a Children’s Home in Waterlooville, Hampshire, U.K.

As is so often the case, the woman suffered for many years before she was empowered to come forward and seek justice. She alleged that the bishop of the Diocese of Portsmouth was vicariously liable for the crimes committed against her by Father Baldwin.

The diocese defended its position through the use of completely erroneous and therefore misleading claims based ultimately in Canon Law. They attempted to convince the court that the bishop has virtually no control over a priest and therefore is not responsible for what he does. This inane argument was advanced in the U.S. many years ago by Cardinal Edward Egan, himself a Canon lawyer, who tried to convince the courts that priests were “independent contractors” which gave the bishop little control over them. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. The control of a bishop over a priest exceeds the control of any employer over an employee in any profession. Some have rightly described a priest’s relationship to his bishop as a kind of economic or indentured servitude.

The presiding judge apparently looked beyond the Church’s false arguments and based his decision on the empowerment and authority granted to the priest by the bishop.  He found for the claimant.

The full text of the judgment, written by Mr. Justice MacDuff [is available by request from me at frankdouglas62@yahoo.com]. Below my own commentary on this momentous decision.














The English province of Our Lady of Charity and the Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman

Catholic Diocesan Trust


Before Mr. Justice MacDuff

Comments by

Thomas P. Doyle, M.A. M.S., M.Ch.A., J.C.D.,C.A.D.C.

It appears that Mr. Justice MacDuff used a realistic test to determine if the Diocese of Portsmouth was liable for the actions of its priest, Fr. Baldwin, who had raped the claimant when she was a young girl in residence at a children’s’ home in Hampshire. He by-passed the literal and therefore narrow interpretation of a classic employer-employee relationship and focused instead on the relationship itself and on the role of the bishop of the diocese in the activities of the priest. The justice also quoted for his purposes a landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada (Bazley vs. Curry): This requires trial judges to investigate the employee’s specific duties and determine whether they gave rise to special opportunities for wrong-doing. Because of the peculiar exercise of power and trust that pervade cases such as child abuse, special attention should be paid to the existence of a power dependency relationship which on its own creates a considerable risk of wrong-doing.

This cuts to the heart of the priest-parishioner relationship and acknowledges the dependency that exists between a Catholic lay person and the members of the clergy, both priests and bishops. These men instill the standard Church teaching into the Catholic laity that their ultimate goal is eternal salvation and to achieve this they must subject themselves to the power and authority of the priest. The Justice looked rightly to the nature and features of the relationship between priest and lay person. In his last paragraph Mr. Justice MacDuff sums it up well: “In this case, the empowerment and granting of authority to Father Baldwin to pursue the activity on behalf of the enterprise are the major factors.

Fortunately for the claimant, other victims of Catholic clergy and justice itself, Mr.  Justice MacDuff did not give primary weight to the information provided him by the Church concerning the relationship of the bishop to a priest because this information, no doubt provided by Canon Lawyers, is clearly and intentionally erroneous and misleading.


“There is effectively no control over priests once appointed.” This is ludicrous. A poll of any group of priests, young and old, liberal or conservative would quickly dispel this inane myth. A bishop has a spectrum of control over priests who are officially assigned to his diocese and to priests from elsewhere who are working there that is more comprehensive that the relationship of any employer to his employees. The closest analogy would be the relationship between an inferior to a commanding officer in the military.  The bishop alone appoints a priest to his post and the bishop alone can remove him. It is true that the pope alone has the power to involuntarily “defrock” a priest but that is not the point.  The bishop can suspend a priest with little or no due process. He can remove a priest’s faculties which are the special permissions needed to perform key priestly functions. The bishop lacks the power of complete dismissal from the priesthood itself but he certainly can dismiss a priest from an assignment, ministry or even residence in a diocese. The bishop has ultimate authority over all pastoral or ministerial activities that are performed by priests anywhere in his diocese. He can determine the schedule for liturgical celebrations. He alone can discipline priests for breaches of liturgical or canon law. He can remove a priest from an assignment and leave him with no assignment. The bishop can also suspend a priest’s salary, health care and retirement benefits. The bishop can stipulate where a priest can live and even what he can wear when he is out in the community.

The assertion that the bishop’s role is advisory not supervisory could not be more contrary to the actual nature of the bishop-priest relationship in theory and in practice. The bishop alone can issue norms, laws or regulations for the priests of the diocese apart from the detailed rules found in canon law. The Church cloaks its descriptions of the relationship in language that misleads the reality of the situation. Priests are referred to as “collaborators,” “brothers,” “sons,” and co-workers with the bishop all of which lead to the mistaken impression that there is a standard collaborative relationship based on some degree of equality. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bishop is part of a governmental system that is the last absolute monarchy in the world. He is an aristocrat and the sole authority in his own share of the overall church-kingdom.

The criterion of recompense is clearly misrepresented by the Church in this case. It is true that in most parishes the priests are paid from the funds collected by the parish, but the bishop sets the salary scale and assigns a priest so that he may receive a salary. If a parish is unable to support its priest most dioceses provide subsidies. What is even more important to understand is that although the bishop does not technically “own” the property and the funds of a parish, he does have control over them. The priest’s monthly cheque may be drawn on the parish bank account but it is the bishop who has ultimate control over that account.  It is true that there is no formal contract between a priest and a bishop but there is no need for one. During the ceremony of his ordination to the priesthood the priest promises “obedience and respect” to his bishop and to his successors. This is not mere decoration but is a real promise with real consequences. The bishop’s word is final subject in some cases to appeal to the Holy See. The priest is pledged to obey the bishop thereby fulfilling God’s will for him in his life and ministry.

Mr. Justice MacDuff said in his judgment that “he [Father Baldwin] had immense power handed him by the Defendants. It was they who appointed him to the position of trust which he 3 so abused.” This is a crucial element. The very fact of ordination gives the priest instant power, prestige and an aura of mystery that he does not have to earn. Irrespective of his personal qualities and defects, he starts out with an extraordinary degree of power given to him simply because of his ordination and his assignment. On the one hand the bishop exerts an extraordinary and some would say anachronistic degree of control over a priest but on the other hand the bishop also gives him an extraordinarily effective degree of prestige, power and control over those who are taught to depend on him for that which Catholics are taught is the ultimate purpose of their life in the Church, eternal salvation.

In arguing this case the Church’s representatives did what was expected: they painted an erroneous picture of the priest’s stature in the diocese that would be laughable were the potential consequences not so disastrous. Fortunately for the claimant and for the countless others who have suffered sexual molestation at the hands of Catholic clerics, Mr. Justice MacDuff saw beyond the superficial to the heart of the matter. He bypassed the intentionally misleading and false canonical legalism to the main issue which is power, given and misused in violation of all that the Catholic Church stands for.


    12 Responses to “Tom Doyle’s Comments on Landmark Decision by the High Court of Justice in London, England”

  1. Voice from the Desert » Blog Archive » Tom Doyle’s “Hot Recommendsations” of recent books dealing with the Catholic Church and clerical sexual abuse Says:

    […] The second entry is Tom’s commentary on the November 8, 2011,  ruling of the British (U.K.) High Court that there is an employer-employee relationship between a bishop and a priest, which has the effect of facilitating abuse victims being compensated by the Church for their suffering. […]

  2. Carolyn Disco Says:

    Outstanding, Tom. Keep chipping away at the drivel the church puts out. How can bishops and their lawyers assert the inane without running to confession regularly?

  3. JuneAnnette Says:

    Mr. Doyle,

    Thank you for providing us with the benefit of your inside knowledge of the bishop-priest relationship, along with your usual candid and expert analysis of this encouraging development in the RC Clergy Abuse saga. Your courageous and principled stand is an inspiration to all who place the welfare and well-being of children above an institution, regardless of how prestigious and revered it is in the eyes of many.

    For me this decision was an answer to heartfelt prayer . . Praise God.

    I was ecstatic to learn that the VICTIMS/SURVIVORS of Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse in the UK may yet have their day in court.
    Thankfully this shameless legal maneuver employed by the RC “church” to protect their assets and obstruct justice for the Victims by denying them recourse through the courts of the land has been rejected. I thank God that thisJudge did the right thing in ruling favorably for the Victims, because as the Roman Catholic “church” has demonstrated time and time again, unless compelled to do so, they will not do the right thing!

    Finally the scales of justice are being tipped in favor of the Victims! Though prosecution of RC Clergy Abusers appears to be the exception rather than the rule, we can thank God that in this matter the just and righteous cause of the Victims has been furthered.

    In solidarity with the VICTIMS / SURVIVORS of Roman Catholic clergy abuse,


  4. Judy Jones Says:

    Thank you Tom…and pls don’t stop…!!!

  5. Kay4Justice Says:

    Tom, you always tell it just like it is. I saw the many articles about this ruling on the Tracker and am in hopes that the U.S. will follow suit. We recently had one of these cases here in Missouri that was ruled in favor of the church… ugh! Carry on. You are appreciated!

  6. ERW Says:

    I do not understand: …..although the bishop does not technically own the property and the funds of the parish….

    Pray tell me, does Father Doyle refer to the situation in the Catholic church of England or the Catholic Church in general????? Please, can anybody clarify this for me?

    As far as I know, in every diocese of the USA the bishops are holding title to all parish properties under “corporation sole.” This means. that nobody but the bishops have sole control of the properties. That is the reason that they can close churches and sell off all parish properties. amd the faithful are comletely powerless to prevent it. The only exceptions seems to be St. Stanislaus in St. Louis. That is the reason un-christian bishop Burke tried to force the parish laity to sign over the extensive property to him, and remove so a precedent for any other laity to get any ideas

    Of course, during the scandal trails, the bishop suddenly wanted to declare the parish assets independent of those of the diocese, dispite the fact, that the laity have been completely powerless over any asset. I believe, they tried this in the Northwest somewhere.

  7. Thomas Says:

    Every single parish should own their own property title….and still have membership in the diocese. The sexual abuse crisis brought forth great anxiety when bishops did not have the funds or the liquidity to pay off compensation claims. It caused them to shutter parishes and sell out. It caused them to do things in secret that were aimed at preventing scandal in the church. It caused them to be blinded by bias as they saw the victims and the survivors as the enemy instead of as the wounded. It caused them to strain the faith of the laity and destroy the faith of the young. One can only take so many lies, and not react. The acts and inaction of the modern day hierarchy (aka apostles) was foretold long before now—the first 12 did not understand then…and these now are the same—be not what you are; follow where the Spirit leads, and do not dictate.

    If Cardinal Burke were a true Christian…a brother of Christ, he would find a no fault way of undoing the injustice and pain that he caused to that innocent community. Even a priest can disagree with another priest…it is a God given right…and Jesus used it often.

  8. Chris Morley Says:

    This is indeed a significant and welcome decision for England and Wales (but not Scotland, where the law and legal system are different) and it will also influence courts in other countries with similar legal systems (e.g. Canada, South Africa, Australia), but it is important to note that this is not the final ruling.

    There will now be an appeal by the church, and the High Court gave permission for this. This means the judgement is not final until the Court of Appeal has reviewed and decided the case, and there may then be a further appeal to the Supreme Court in London, because this case will set a potentially very expensive legal precedent for the Catholic Church in England and Wales. For example, there were numerous incidents at St Benedict’s school run by Ealing Abbey in London, with one priest already jailed and another who has jumped bail http://www.ealingtoday.co.uk/default.asp?section=info&page=eaealingabbeyreport001.htm

    With this High Court ruling that the church is legally liable for the alleged rape and abuse by a priest who is now dead, the main trial of the abuse claim itself can now go ahead.

    There is a useful legal commentary (with web links to related cases) at the UK Human Rights Blog http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/11/09/bishop-can-be-vicariously-liable-for-priests-sex-abuse-rules-high-court/

  9. JuneAnnette Says:

    To the Readers/Contributors of this Blog:

    Recently at an Irish Central Article entitled ‘Bill Donohue: Catholic Church the real victim’ / April 12, 2011 / http://www.irishcentral.com/story/ent/manhattan_diary/bill-donohue-catholic-church-the-real-victim-119694714.html?commentspage=1
    in the course of the spirited discussion, I introduced various excerpts from selected commentaries by Thomas Patrick Doyle which I commended to the readers of the thread. This engendered a very hostile response from a man identified with the moniker ‘edmicca’ .

    He wrote: “For what it’s worth, Fr. Doyle, canon lawyer that he is, has been banned in the Archdiocese of St. Louis from offering legal representation. Not to mention that he himself, canon lawyer that he is, is accused of the canonical crimes of abuse of ecclesiastical functions, and of the culpably negligent and illegitimate placing of an act of ecclesiastical function with harm to another.”

    By any chance would you or anyone for that matter contributing to this disucssion be able to vertify if this is so?

    My response to ‘edmicca’ at the time follows:

    Perhaps edmicca might be persuaded to elaborate on the charges brought against P.Doyle in layman’s language! I wonder if those charges have anything to do with the expert witness testimony Mr. Doyle has given in a court of law . . testimony he felt obliged to give, both in his conscience and in the sight of God, the Judge over all! (Ps. 96:13)
    God’s law trumps canon law! Men with a conscience are a dying breed and whistleblowers are generally ostracized, marginalized and undermined by those who have the most to lose if they tell all! Not surprised to learn that the Vatican has put Doyle in the dock .

  10. Thomas Says:

    It was rumored in St. Louis…and made known as fact…probably because of a power struggle foot forwarded by the archbishop Burke when Fr. Doyle was asked to legally represent Fr. Bozek from St. Stan’s. Which leads me to believe that Burke is hostile towards intelligent men…his power has gone to his head, and his temples are about to burst! I don’t know about the dock…but if the Vatican keeps it up—it will collapse—the people of God have opened their eyes, ears, and hearts to what is really important when following Christ.

  11. Thomas Says:

    Dog gone it!!! Billy Bob is at it again!!! Someday…before God…he will choke on every word!

  12. Thomas Says:

    Go ahead JuneAnnette…keep dancing with the devil. For all you know, edmicca might be a Cardinal in disguise…an evil one that burns people.

Leave a Reply