EDITORIAL:

Churches have covered up sexual abuse by their priests for probably just one reason, Christianity is a forgiving creed.

Its offending clerics have broken spiritual as well as temporal laws and the offenders' opportunity for spiritual reconciliation has been more important to the hierarchy than the demands of public justice.

That is obviously no defence in courts of law. Instead, the churches have been running a far less respectable defence which is about to be tested before the Human Rights Review Tribunal in a case we report today.

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The Anglican Church is arguing that a priest accused by a parishioner of sexual harassment, was an agent of God not the church and therefore its hierarchy cannot be held accountable for his behaviour.

Lawyers for the complainant insist the priest was an agent of his diocese and the vicar of his parish (in Blenheim) and the bishop of the diocese (Nelson) are "vicariously liable" under the harassment provisions of the Human Rights Act.

It is a pity to see how far the Christian church sometimes go to avoid responsibility for the conduct of some of the men they have made priests and put in positions of great trust.

Evidently this "agent of God" defence has had some success overseas though courts in the UK and Canada have recently rules the church is liable for unlawful actions of its priests.

So it should be. Their church trains them, knows them, and posts them to parishes where needy and vulnerable people will come to them for advice and support.

Churches should accept responsibility and pay for the consequences.