Priests are not press meat, says Strasbourg

5 December 2012 by

priestVerlagsruppe News Gmbh and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2012 (04 December 2012)

Hard on the heels of the Facebook case, here is another legal dust up over the media’s sharp interest in any story involving allegations of inappropriate sexual relations, particularly in the Catholic church.

Following a police investigation into internet downloads, the principal of a Roman Catholic seminary in Austria became the target of unwelcome interest from the tabloid press, including the second applicant, who published a series of articles and photographs alleging that  Mr Küchl was engaging in homosexual relations with the seminarians. One article identified the seminarian principal, whose face was clearly identifiable from the accompanying photograph. The article was entitled “Go on!” (Trau dich doch). The sub-heading read “Porn scandal. Photographic evidence of sexual antics between priests and their students has thrown the diocese of St Pölten into disarray. First the principal and now the deputy principal have resigned. High-ranking dignitaries expect Kurt Krenn [the bishop of the diocese] to be removed from office.”

Mr Küchl’s efforts to seek redress from the local courts under ordinary defamation law came to nothing, as did his claim invoking the constitutional protection of his strictly personal sphere (höchstpersönlicher Lebens­bereich) caused by the publication of the photograph and the impugned article. The Regional Court said:

Owing to the considerable importance of the Roman Catholic Church as a role model, the public had a great interest in being informed about what was going on within the Church. …The circumstances leading to [the police investigation] were a subject of public interest and had a direct connection with public life. Mr Küchl, as the head of the seminary, was a public figure in that capacity.

Mr Küchl was successful however under Austrian copyright legislation, which prohibits the publication of photographs which violate constitutional interests. In this case the Vienna Court of Appeal ruled that his legitimate interests had been infringed by the applicants by accusing him of unwanted homosexual advances towards seminarians, and this ruling was upheld by the Supreme court which held that the claimant’s interests in the protection of his private sphere under Article 8 of the Convention outweighed the freedom to impart information protected by Article 10. They granted the appellant an injunction but denied him compensation.

The newspaper applicants challenged the injunction before the Strasbourg Court, putting forward the usual well-known arguments about the public interest in public figures.

The Court dismissed the application, holding that the sanction was balanced and did not disclose any lack of proportionality under Article 10.

The Court’s reasoning

The Court attached considerable weight to the Austrian courts’ conclusions in the copyright proceedings, that the claimant was not, for these purposes, a “public figure”. While they noted that he was a high-ranking dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church, they observed that he was not known to the public at large.

…in contrast to Bishop Krenn, the bishop of the diocese, who had repeatedly made statements in the media condemning homosexuality in strong terms and provoking equally strong reactions, Mr Küchl had apparently not contributed to that debate nor had he entered the public scene in any other way before the events which gave rise to the publication of the article at issue

The Court attached particular importance to  ‘the intrusion into the intimate sphere of the claimant’s private life and the pillorying effect of the publication of the picture in conjunction with the article’, and the fact that  sexual relationships between adults fell within the sphere protected by Article 8.

The juxtaposition of ecclesiastical piety and sexual innuendo may make good copy, but the protection of the Convention applies also to representatives of the Church, “even if their conduct is in contradiction with the Church’s position”.

Sign up to free human rights update s by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts:

1 comment;

  1. hp lehofer says:

    Maybe one should add that the priests also went to Strasbourg, complaining – under Art 8 – that the Austrian courts had failed to protect them against a violation of their rights to respect for their private life (because they were not awarded compensation under the Media Act); in both cases (decided on the same day as the Case Verlagsgruppe News and Bobi) the Court found no violation of Art 8 of the Convention.
    Case Küchl
    Case Rothe

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals Anne Sacoolas anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy diplomatic relations disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control hague convention Harry Dunn Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy procurement Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions prostituton Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation refugee rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism The Round Up tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Weekly Round-up Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: