Church Not Suable 'Good News'

By Art Babych
Canadian Catholic News [Ottawa]
Downloaded April 2, 2004

The decision of Canada's highest court not to rule on whether the entire Roman Catholic Church can be sued is "good news," says the lawyer for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

William Sammon added, "We would have liked a clearer answer on the suability of the Church, but we certainly understand where the court is coming from because the Church was un-represented throughout the entire proceedings."

The effect of the ruling is to "leave in place the other decisions in Canada that say the Roman Catholic Church is not a suable entity," Sammon said. "Those decisions are still good law and so from that perspective we're certainly pleased with the court's decision."

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote, "The record does not provide the clear picture of the details of the Church's hierarchy or of the relationship between the Church and its constituent parts, necessary to delineate the boundaries of the institution, the nature of its legal status, and its potential liability."

However, the nine-member court reinstated the trial judge's ruling that the Episcopal Corporation of St. George's, in Newfoundland, was vicariously liable for sexual abuses committed by Father Kevin Bennett, a priest who worked in parishes in western Newfoundland.

He pleaded guilty to hundreds of sexual assaults involving altar boys between 1961 and 1989, and was sentenced to a total of five years in two court actions in the early 1990s.

Thirty-five of his victims launched a civil suit seeking compensation for damages from Bennett, the Episcopal Corporation of St. George's, Bishop Raymond Lahey and Alphonsus Penney, the former archbishop of St. John's.

The Newfoundland Court of Appeal upheld the liability of Bennett and the diocese but set aside the findings of personal liability against Lahey, Penney and the Church.

The federal government also asked the high court to find that the Catholic Church is suable, saying the Church has refused to enter into settlement agreements with the government involving abuse victims of Indian residential schools on the grounds that it is not a legal entity in Canada.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.