Law and religion roundup – 22nd December

Cardinal found guilty of embezzlement and abuse of office

On Saturday, a Vatican court found Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former adviser to Pope Francis, guilty of embezzlement and abuse of office and sentenced him to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. Becciu, 75, is the most senior Vatican official ever to face such charges. After the verdict was announced, his lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said:

 “We reaffirm Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s innocence and will appeal. We respect the ruling, but we will definitely appeal.”


The Church of England has published the Report of the independent review by Sarah Wilkinson of Blackstone Chambers into the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board, following the decision by the Archbishops’ Council to terminate the contracts of the members of the Board following a breakdown in relationships earlier this year.

An accompanying press release said that the report had been sent to Professor Alexis Jay “as part of her ongoing work to develop proposals for a fully independent structure for safeguarding scrutiny in the Church of England”.

Blessing of same-sex couples

At an online meeting on 12 December 2023, the C of E’s House of Bishops confirmed its earlier decision to commend the Prayers of Love and Faith resources for use in regular public worship and agreed that this should take effect from last Sunday, 17 December. The Press Release is summarized in Prayers of Love and Faith from Sunday 17 December

The implementation and pastoral implications are well beyond the scope of L&RUK but have been discussed by Thinking Anglicans, which also provides links to the episcopal responses as they have become available. However, whilst not supporting the use of prayers as they currently stand, the Bishop of Chichester provided a concise summary:

“No one is under an obligation to use them. No one has the right to demand them. Rather like what has been said about making your confession: ‘all may, some do, none must.’”

The prayers were first used last Sunday: on the previous day, The Times carries a report on one such blessing.

Coincidentally, on Monday the Vatican issued the Declaration Fiducia supplicans, for the first time envisaging blessings for same-sex couples. We noted it here and here. Despite the assertion that the Declaration is “sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers” [41], opposing interpretations have been aired on both sides of the Tiber, here and here.

Immigrant workers’ visas

On 4 December, the Home Secretary unveiled a new package of measures to reduce immigration, including a decision to increase the skilled worker earnings threshold and the minimum income for family visas by a third to £38,700 from next spring. The new measures will apply to applications from those settled here to bring in their spouses, civil partners or fiancé(e)s and to spouses and civil partners already settled here who need to renew their visas. On 12 December, in a Commons Written Answer, Tom Pursglove, the Home Office Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery, said that the change would not apply to those seeking a T2 Minister of Religion visa.

On 21 December, however, a Home Office minister, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, announced in a Lords Written Answer that the raising of the income threshold will be staged, starting with an increase to £29,000 in the spring, and that was confirmed in a Home Office policy paper published on the same day. All of which provides some degree of reassurance on Minister of Religion visas, at any rate, if not for the position of lay employees of faith communities.

Isle of Man

Further consideration of the private Member’s bill to remove the right of the Bishop of Sodor and Man to vote (though not to sit) in the Legislative Council –­ the Isle of Man Constitution Bill 2023  – has been adjourned while a public consultation is carried out.

Calling for the adjournment, Rob Callister MHK argued that there could be “potential unknown consequences” of removing the traditional role of the Bishop in Tynwald, referring to a letter from the then Archbishop of York in which Dr Sentamu had suggested that removing the Bishop’s vote in Tynwald “would significantly undermine the case for Sodor and Man being a separate diocese”.

Vicarious liability

One we missed: not “religion” specifically, but an issue often raised in actions arising from clerical abuse…

In MXX v A Secondary School [2023] EWCA Civ 996, PXM, an 18-year-old former pupil of a school, completed a one-week work experience placement at his old school in 2014 after he had left. The claimant, MXX, then aged 13, met PMX at the school during his placement. After PXM’s placement had ended, they exchanged various messages on social media which were found to have amounted to grooming. Six months later, PXM sexually assaulted MXX and he was subsequently convicted of multiple offences against her. She sued the school, arguing that it was vicariously liable for the assault. The High Court dismissed her claim. On appeal, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision, finding as follows on the facts as regards the two-stage test for vicarious liability:

Stage 1: was the relationship akin to employment? The Court of Appeal found that the relationship between PXM and the school during the placement was consistent with PXM being an employee of the school because, inter alia:

  • the school required PXM to adhere to its safeguarding policy;
  • his activities with pupils were closely supervised; and
  • pupils were required to treat him as a member of staff.

Stage 2: was there a close connection to authorised acts? The Court held that, on the facts, the grooming and sexual assaults were not closely connected with PXM’s work experience responsibilities and had been committed well after the placement had ended. On the close connection test, Nicola Davies LJ concluded as follows:

“[PXM] had no caring or pastoral responsibility for the pupils, a factor to which considerable weight is given in previous cases. PXM’s access to the claimant at school was limited as he was, or should have been, kept under close supervision at all times. Even allowing for the fact that PXM was to be addressed as if he was a member of staff, he held no position of authority over the pupils in the school. It was not until PXM left the school that any communication took place on Facebook and such communication was specifically prohibited by the school.

In my judgment, given the limited nature of PXM’s role during the course of one week, the facts do not begin to satisfy the requirements of the close connection test. The grooming which led to the sexual offending was not inextricably woven with the carrying out by PXM of his work during his week at the defendant’s school such that it would be fair and just to hold the defendant vicariously liable for the acts of PXM” [87&88]. [With acknowledgements to Farrer & Co.]

December dates

The L&RUK Annual Quiz was posted yesterday, and the answers will be given on Saturday 30 December. The December Ecclesiastical Court judgments and the Annual Summary will be posted before the New Year. 

Quick links

And finally… “Christmas, Christianity and communities”

On Tuesday, there was a rather rambling Westminster Hall debate on Christmas, Christianity and communities initiated by Nick Fletcher (Con: Don Valley). Simon Hoare, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (and, we learned, the Government’s Minister for Faith), replied. Unusually, he did so ex tempore.


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