Law and religion round-up – 25th August

A week in which, after serious reflection, we decided not to make an offer for Greenland…

The UN and religious persecution

22 August marked the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, established by a resolution of the UN General Assembly earlier in the year. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement on 21 August in anticipation: we noted it here.


IICSA has published transcripts of the proceedings at its two recent seminars on mandatory reporting. Seminar 1 on 27 September covered the existing obligations to report child sexual abuse and seminar 2 on 29-30 April looked at the arguments for and against mandatory reporting.

Later in the week, Yvonne and David Shemmings published their final report into failings in safeguarding by the Diocese of Chichester: Sexual Abuse by Clergymen in the Diocese of Chichester ‘You Can’t Say No To God’. The report was commissioned by the Diocese in 2017, following a recommendation made by the IICSA. The report comments:

“… readers should understand that the authors have been exploring the experience of those whom they have interviewed rather than examining facts in all their detail. This is a distinct discipline that differs from that used to compile reports that set out factual evidence”.

The tone of the report is summed up by this extract from their introduction:

“Hearing from those involved about what happened in this Diocese – as well as in others – over many years, has affected us both (and we have both worked in the field of child protection and safeguarding, between us now for over 50 years). To learn, repeatedly, about the effects and sequelae of what happened to survivors into their adulthood was in one sense humbling but, at another, devastating. That these events could have happened within a set of religious beliefs based on love, peace and non-violence is particularly hard to reconcile.”

Cardinal George Pell

In George Pell v The Queen [2019] VSCA 186, Cardinal Pell lost his appeal against his conviction for five charges of child abuse in 1990 by a majority of 2-1. Neil Addison, a criminal barrister and a former Senior Crown Prosecutor, gave his first impressions on the initial summary of the case in a guest post. Once the full judgment became available, he commented further in an e-mail as follows:

“The above was written in the early hours of the morning having just the summary judgment delivered by the Court. Since then I’ve been able to read the full judgment including the extremely interesting analysis by Justice Mark Weinberg, who was the only judge of the Court who supported Cardinal Pell. In his judgment, Judge Weinberg gives examples of a number of cases where the High Court of Australia has overturned Guilty verdicts on the basis that they were unsupported by the evidence. Since the High Court has previously accepted that such cases do properly fall within its remit, then I suspect it is more likely than not that they will grant leave to appeal in this extremely high-profile case.  Whether Cardinal Pell will win such an Appeal is, of course, another matter – but I have to say that Judge Weinberg’s forensic demolition of the prosecution case is compelling and I am sure Cardinal Pell’s lawyers will rely heavily on what Judge Weinberg has said.  One thing seems certain, however: even if leave to appeal is granted there will be a delay until the High Court can hear and determine it, so Cardinal Pell will have quite a while to wait in prison.”

Now that the Australian verdict has been handed down, attention shifts to Rome, where a canonical process has been pending. The Catholic News Agency (CNA) carries a report by Ed Condon, who comments that “Pell will face a canonical process at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on charges of crimes of sexual abuse of minors – the same charges brought against him in Victoria”. However, on 21 August, Matteo Bruni, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, issued a non-committal Declaration which said: “As the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

On our round-up on 25 November 2018, we noted that we did not intend to comment or post on the suspension of The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy unless the Church of England itself becomes directly involved; the Cathedral is specifically excluded from ecclesiastical legislation including the Cathedrals Measure 1999 and the Care of Cathedral Measure 2011. On 21 August 2019, Christ Church, Oxford, issued a brief communication which stated “following a thorough investigation, the tribunal has decided that the charges are not upheld and that there is no cause to remove the Dean as Head of House”. This was followed by a statement from The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford.

Marriage law news

The Faculty Office has further updated the page Marriage Law News, August 2019 to indicate that “As the necessary Regulations have not yet been laid before Parliament, the implementation timescale and the timelines for lodging a completed Marriage Document/Schedule with the [Register Office] set out in this article [and marked with an asterisk] remain liable to revision”. These latest changes have been incorporated in our earlier post.

Can you sue a priest for using a crucifix?

Not according to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In Fermin v Priest of St Mary – Marfa, Texas, Diocese of El Paso  No. 19-50261 (5th Cir 2019), Fermin sued the Diocese of El Paso and an unnamed priest for using a crucifix during his baptism in 1925. He alleged that the priest did so “in violation of God’s law”, citing inter alia the Second Commandment’s prohibition of idolatry. Part of his claim was that the priest’s conduct had violated the First Amendment – at which the Court was deeply unimpressed:

“The First Amendment constrains state action, not private conduct … Churches and priests are not state actors. Indeed, if the First Amendment had any role to play in this case, it would be to warn us against delving into a dispute about religious doctrine.” [With thanks to Robert Forrest.]

Quick links

And finally…I

The BBC reports on a new film, Hail Satan?,  about an American group called the Satanic Temple which, says the report,  “follows the Temple’s attempts to curtail what they see as the encroachment of Christianity on US life through its growing political influence”. It’s different in the UK: see Satanism in the Royal Navy.

And finally…II

Public legal education should begin on CBBC, suggests Monidipa Fouzder in the Law Society Gazette: “What better way to introduce young children to the law than with a half-hour show, set in an advice clinic, where they can see the family, housing, employment or social welfare issues they themselves may face one day, and understand their rights?”

Which is fine – so long as every show ends with a health warning that the law in Northern Ireland, Scotland and (increasingly) Wales is not necessarily the same as the law in England. Or are we just being unduly pedantic?

3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 25th August

  1. Re: Fermin v Priest of St Mary – Marfa, Texas, I wrote that bit and it subsequently occurs to me that since the canonical age for ordination to the priesthood is (I think) 25, if Fermin was baptised in 1925 the priest he was suing must be about 119. Or can you sue dead people in Texas?

  2. The Fermin case reminds me of a legendary California case (it could only be California) where a Prisoner tried to sue Satan for leading him astray and causing him to end up in prison. The Judge struck out the claim on the grounds
    (1) The Plaintif has not provided an address for the Defendant within the Jurisdiction of the Court so there can be no proof of service as required by State Rules of Civil Procedure (2) The description of the Defendant as ‘Ruler of Hell’ indicates that the defendant is head of a foreign Government and as such so immune to suit under the terms of the Foreign Sovereigns Immunity Act

  3. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 1st September | Law & Religion UK

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