Dioceses to clear up their own legal standing

Prof. Lindenbergh, the chairman of the commission

Possibly in response to questions raised (especially in the United States) about the legal position of dioceses, religious orders, bishops, and the Vatican when it comes to child abuse cases, the Dutch bishops and the Conference of Dutch Religious have created a commission that will look into exactly that. The three-person commission consists of Prof. Mr. Siewert D. Lindenbergh (chairman), professor in Civil Law at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam; Mr. Jacqueline Meyst-Michels, a lawyer specialising in liability and injury law, especially in the medical field; and Mr. Joost Wildeboer, a lawyer specialising in injury and insurance law.

The new commission is tasked to take all relevant aspects of limitations, liability and damages according to civil and church law into account and come with an advice in early 2011. Until then, they will be working in private, being unavailable for the media until the aforementioned aspects have been considered.

An attempt to save skins, or to create clarity? The optimist in me favours the latter, and I think it has things going for it. Although the Netherlands is not (yet) a society as fond of the courtroom as the United States, the legal battles fought there do offer a lesson. How should the law treat a diocese or a bishop? Are they autonomous entities or employees of the Vatican or the local archbishop? Church law and customs have answers, but are these the same as the answers that civil law has?

The abuse crisis is not over. The accusations and stories of terrible crimes are being collected now. It remains to be seen how the legal battle turns out.


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