ROME – Victims of clergy abuse on Thursday asked the European Court of Human Rights to issue a final ruling on whether the Holy See can continue to avoid liability for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests invoking state immunity.
Lawyers for the victims have asked the Grand Chamber of the court to hear the case, after a lower house judgment in October agreed that the Vatican could not be sued in a local Belgian court because it enjoys the sovereign immunity. The lower judgment agreed with the Belgian courts which had dismissed the case, also determining that the misconduct of the priests could not be attributed to the Holy See.
The 24 victims had argued that the Holy See was indeed responsible for their abuse because of the ‘structurally flawed’ way the Catholic hierarchy had dealt with cases of priests who raped and molested children for decades, covering up the crimes instead. than denounce them.
In the new filing, lawyers for the victims said the October decision was flawed and the case merited full Grand Chamber consideration, especially as it would affect victims of abuse of the clergy throughout Europe. The Grand Chamber is made up of 17 judges and accepts requests for revision of chamber judgments on an “exceptional” basis, according to the ECHR website.
There was no indication of when the Grand Chamber might decide whether to hear the case or not.
Lawyers said the case met the court’s criteria for review because it involved sensitive issues that sparked public debate and involved legal issues that had not previously been addressed by the court.
The key question is whether the Holy See – the seat of a world religion – should enjoy the benefits of the immunities granted to a nation-state while escaping the responsibilities that come with being a true nation, have- they backed.