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Abuse victims did not have right to sue Vatican, says European court

The European Court of Human Rights dismissed a case brought by 24 people who said they were victims of abusive priests in Belgium

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Published: October 13, 2021 04:25 AM GMT

Updated: October 13, 2021 04:28 AM GMT

Abuse victims did not have right to sue Vatican, says European court

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the opening of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 10 at the Vatican. (Photo: AFP)

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that 24 Belgian, French and Dutch nationals, who were victims of clerical sexual abuse as children, were not denied their rights when a Belgian court refused to allow them to sue the Vatican.

The 6-1 vote leading to the "chamber judgment" of the European Court of Human Rights was published Oct. 12. Parties have three months to request the court to examine the case further.

The abuse survivors filed a class action suit in July 2011 with a court in Ghent, Belgium, seeking to sue several Belgian bishops and two associations of religious orders, but also the Holy See for "the structurally deficient way in which the Church had dealt with the known problem of sexual abuse within it."

The Ghent court, and later a Belgian appeals court, ruled the Belgian courts had no jurisdiction over the Holy See as a sovereign state.

The court of appeal also took exception to the case because "the misconduct of which the Belgian bishops were accused could not be attributed to the Holy See, as the pope was not the principal in relation to the bishops; that the misconduct attributed directly to the Holy See had not been committed on Belgian territory but in Rome; and that neither the pope nor the Holy See had been present on Belgian territory when the misconduct attributed to the leaders of the Church in Belgium had been committed."

The dissenting judge disagreed, arguing that since the pope appoints bishops, he bears some responsibility for their actions.

After being informed that a further appeal to a higher court had little chance of success, "all but four claimants, who did not apply, were able to obtain compensation through the arbitration center for sexual abuse claims set up within the Catholic Church," said the statement from the European Court.

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