Discussing payments by the Roman Catholic Church to victims of sexual abuse by priests.


About John Lilburne



1328 K Wed 15 May 2002

There has been a lot in the media about financial compensation for victims of sexual assault by priests.

Should an archdiocese be forced to pay? If there is criminal activity by a priest is an archbishop responsible?

The Catholic Church is sometimes criticised for making payments. In his latest Letter From America, Alistair Cooke calls it "hush money".

... In the now many revelations of paedophilia and the hiding of it by hush money given by the bishops, ...

If a priest murdered someone then he would go to jail. But it would not make sense to sue the Archdiocese.

In a discussion on NewsHour, which I saw yesterday, Patrick Schiltz discussed some U.S. laws about not suing charities:

... In their strongest forms, they say you can't sue a charity; you can't recover damages. The reasoning behind them is when you sue the Catholic Church, you are not suing the bishop. You are essentially suing the people in the pews or the people served by the Catholic Church, neither of whom had anything whatsoever to do with the decisions that created the damage here. ...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

1868. Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers.

1869. Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. 'Structures of sin' are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a 'social sin.'[John Paul II, RP 16.]

However there are responsibilities for those who administer ecclesiastical goods, in the Code of Canon Law:

1284 §1 All administrators are to perform their duties with the diligence of a good householder.

§2. Therefore they must:

1. be vigilant that no goods placed in their care in any way perish or suffer damage; to this end they are, to the extent necessary, to arrange insurance contracts;

2. ensure that the ownership of ecclesiastical goods is safeguarded in ways which are valid in civil law;

3. observe the provisions of canon and civil law, and the stipulations of the founder or donor or lawful authority; they are to take special care that damage will not be suffered by the Church through the non-observance of the civil law; ...

So bishops have duties here as well and difficult judgements to make.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 15 May 2002. Canon Law extract from the 1997 Harper Collins translation.

Other sites:

A story in The Australian today about litigation, not mentioning the Catholic Church

PBS NewsHour "Catholic Church in Crisis"

NewsHour discussing case with Cardinal Law testifying

Washington Post "Roman Catholic Church Shifts Legal Strategy"

Alistair Cooke's Letter From America of 13 May 2002