Church's Legal Stonewalling Likely to Continue: Lawyer

By Neal Woolrich
ABC, carried in The World Today [Australia]
July 2, 2003

TANYA NOLAN: The startling admission from the head of the Jesuits that the Order has been employing legal stalling tactics, comes as no surprise to lawyers who've represented victims of sex abuse.

Solicitor Peter Gordon says the Catholic Church's approach to dealing with allegations of abuse, is far from humane and he's been telling our reporter Neal Woolrich that legal stonewalling is a continuing fact of life for victims desperate for reparation from the Catholic Church.

PETER GORDON: The Catholic Church and their lawyers have traditionally taken a very hardball approach to litigation, relying on all sorts of technical points. It's very, very rare for negotiations to take place at all.

NEAL WOOLRICH: What are some of those tactics that the Church has employed to try to force victims to drop their claims?

PETER GORDON: You know, there are several. First of all, of course, all of these events occurred a long time ago and so there's heavy reliance placed upon the Statute of Limitations by the Church.

Secondly, the Catholic Church relies upon each unique situation of not being a body corporate, which can be sued. It also relies upon a doctrine, which says it ought not to be held liable for the acts of its servants or agents, that is to say the priests and the clergy. It denies what the lawyers call vicarious responsibility, or vicarious liability, for them.

And fourthly, I guess in many cases, and I guess I'd have to say in some of the most obscene examples of legal conduct I've ever seen, blaming the victims and suggesting that as children they enticed the priests and the clergy and were themselves to blame if any sexual behaviour took place.

NEAL WOOLRICH: Do you think it was the lawyers or the Church driving the process and using these legal blocking tactics?

PETER GORDON: Oh, I think they're both to blame. I don't think either can escape responsibility. I think that lawyers are free to say to clients, in relation to instructions that they believe to be legally and ethically wrong, that they're not prepared to put those cases and I think that it has been incumbent upon lawyers acting ethically to say to the Catholic Church instructing them, I'm not prepared to put in cross examination to a man that when he was a boy he was, himself, guilty of enticing a priest to have sex with him. I think it's open to a lawyer to say I'm simply not prepared to do that and I wish that had have happened at times in the past and it didn't.

NEAL WOOLRICH: Now that the head of the Jesuits has admitted that these blocking tactics are employed, what implications do you think this will have for future cases against the Church?

PETER GORDON: As long as the defences remain available, and as long as these matters are basically decided on financial grounds, I think that the process will continue, and as long as these legal defences are available, sadly, I think it will continue to be the case.

I think that it's, it has to be said, I think that the gentleman who came forward and decried these tactics, the head of the Jesuits, Mark Raper, I think ought to be given congratulations. I think it was a particularly moral and ethical thing that he did. I'd be very, very surprised if he was able to produce a change of policy on behalf of the Catholic Church as a whole.

TANYA NOLAN: Solicitor Peter Gordon speaking there to Neal Woolrich.


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