Can the Pope Learn a Lesson From Spiderman? Vatican Claims Bishops Not Employees of Church

by John McKiggan

Vatican Not Responsible for Bishops Actions

The Vatican is defending a lawsuit that claims Bishops in the United States covered up allegations of sexual abuse. That’s not news. The Pope and the Roman Catholic Church have never acknowledged the responsibility the Church as an institution has to survivors of priest sexual abuse. The Catholic Church tends to fight lawsuits filed by priest abuse victims vigorously, even if the priests involved have been criminally convicted.

Blame Everyone Else

In fact officials in the Catholic Church have pointed the finger pretty much everywhere else including the media, gay priests, and pornography.

Further Hypocrisy

However recently the Vatican has reached new heights of hypocrisy by denying that Catholic Bishops are employees or officials of the Church. The Vatican has asked a court in Kentucky to throw out a lawsuit that claims the Holy See should pay compensation to victims of pedophile priests. The victims’ lawsuit says bishops in the United States were part of a Vatican cover-up of abuse.

Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s US attorney denies that the Pope has control over Bishops, saying:

“The pope is not a five-star general ordering his troops around,”

Law Different in Canada?

The liability of the Vatican has never been determined by the courts in Canada. However, based on existing case law, including the Supreme Court of Canada, I think it is likely that if the matter came before the courts in this country, the Pope would be found to be vicariously liable for the actions of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Has Complete Authority Over Bishops

Under The Code of Canon Law, which lays out all of the rules and laws of the Catholic Church, Bishops are appointed by the Pope.

The Pope is the sole authority over Bishops and the only person that has the power assign Bishops to a Diocese, to remove a Bishop from a Diocese, to discipline a Bishop for misconduct. A Bishop cannot even resign without permission from the Pope.

Canon Law establishes the Pope as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church, whose it is to prescribe what is to be believed by all the faithful, and to take whatever measures and make whatever orders he deems necessary for the preservation and the propagation of the Catholic faith.

Vicarious Liability of Catholic Church

In the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Doe v. Bennett the court held the Catholic Diocese of St. George’s vicariously liable for sexual abuse by one of it’s priests.

The Supreme Court of Canada found that:

“The relationship between the bishop and the priest in the Diocese is not only spiritual but temporal.

First, the Bishop provided Bennett with the opportunity to abuse his power.

Second, Bennett’s wrongful acts were strongly related to the psychological intimacy inherent in his role as priest.

Third, the Bishop conferred an enormous degree of power on Bennett relative to his victims”

One would think that the same reasoning would apply to holding the Pope responsible for the acts of Bishops because the Pope grants Bishops “an enormous degree of power” over every priest and parish member within a Diocese.


A Lesson From Spiderman

Perhaps Pope Benedict doesn’t read Spiderman comics. Maybe he should. In the first Spiderman story published in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) Peter Parker learns:

With great power there must also come – Great responsibility!

The Pope has an enormous degree of power over every Bishop, priest and catholic parishioner in the world. Perhaps it is time he accepts the responsibility that comes with that power.

What do you think?

For the last 18 years I have dedicated my practice to helping survivors of sexual abuse. If you or a loved one have been a victim of sexual abuse you can contact me for a free copy of my book: The Survivor’s Guide to Abuse Compensation Claims.

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