V. et al v the Holy See

Ghent First Instance Tribunal, V. et al v the Holy See, Nr. 11/2648/A, 1 October 2013

Some 39 plaintiffs who claim to have been victims of sexual abuse as minors by ministers of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, argue that in addition to the damages stemming from the abuse itself, they also suffered damages due to the church authorities’ year-long refusal or failure to acknowledge and address the problem. The Holy See objects that the Court has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims against it as it enjoys immunity from jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs argue that the Holy See can only enjoy state immunity in its capacity as the government of Vatican City State, but not when it is sued ‘on behalf of the Pope’ in a civil court as the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Court, however, rejects this argument as it would undo the de facto recognition of the Holy See as foreign sovereign by the Belgian State. The Court, moreover, dismisses the argument by the plaintiffs that the alleged policy errors of the Holy See were ‘acta jure gestionis’ for which it cannot rely on immunity from jurisdiction. The Court also confirms that the invocation of such immunity from jurisdiction does not entail a violation of the plaintiffs’ right of access to justice under the ECHR.