European court rejects case seeking to blame Vatican for abuses
A European court has ruled that the Vatican cannot be prosecuted in a local court for sexual assault committed by Catholic priests.
ROME – A European court on Tuesday agreed that the Vatican could not be prosecuted in a local court for sexual assault committed by Catholic priests, stressing that it enjoys sovereign immunity and that misconduct by priests and their superiors cannot be attributed to the Holy See. .
The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed a case brought by 24 people who said they were victims of abusive priests in Belgium. The Twenty-four have argued that the Holy See is responsible because of the “structurally flawed” manner in which the Catholic hierarchy for decades covered up cases of priests who raped and abused children.
The 24 appealed to a Strasbourg-based court after the Belgian courts ruled that they had no jurisdiction to grant the Holy See immunity as a sovereign state.
The European Court said that the Belgian judges were correct and that the victims were not denied their right to access a court. It reaffirmed the judgment of the Belgian court that the Holy See enjoys sovereign immunity and that there is no exception to this applicable rule since the misconduct of bishops in dealing with cases of abuse cannot be attributed to the Vatican.
Citing the Belgian decision, the European Court said that the Pope was not the “head” of his archbishop, “and that the misconduct directly attributable to the Holy See was committed not on Belgian soil but in Rome; and that neither the Pope nor the Holy See was present on Belgian soil when the misconduct was committed Conduct attributed to church leaders in Belgium,” according to the judgment summary.
The European Court said it was not appropriate to substitute its assessment because the Belgian decision was not arbitrary or unreasonable.
Tuesday’s ruling, the first time the Holy See’s immunity has been tested by the European Court, was a ruling by the Chamber. Both sides have three months to demand that the case be heard by the Grand Chamber for a final determination.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Darian Bavley disputed the Belgian court’s finding regarding the level of authority the Pope exercises over his bishops. He said that Belgian judges had not considered the evidence that the Pope was in fact appointing and dismissing bishops and that the Vatican as a policy imposed a law of silence on dealing with cases of abuse around the world.
As a result, Bavli said, the European Court had to find that Belgian judges had already denied victims access to court.
Those lawsuits cited a Vatican-commissioned report published last year that found a string of popes, Holy See officials and bishops downplaying or dismissing reports of his sexual misconduct as he climbed through the church hierarchy.
The Vatican declined to comment on the ruling. Lawyers for the victims did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.