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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Catholic Orders Dodge Post-WWII Slavery Claim

MANHATTAN (CN) - Once ripped from their families after World War II to populate Australia with "pure white stock," Maltese children described "shocking violations of internationally accepted norms" in a federal lawsuit four years ago. But Supreme Court precedent and the statute of limitations means that the Catholic orders that treated them "essentially as slaves" will never see a federal jury, the 2nd Circuit ruled on Monday.

Emmanuel Ellul says that he was 14 years old when the Congregation of Christian Brothers told his parents that he and his brothers would be able to return to Malta following his education in Australia.

Instead, the Roman Catholic order forced them into physical labor from morning until nightfall and told them his parents were dead, Ellul alleged.

Now 68, Ellul became the first of three named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of as many as 10,000 former child migrants, some as young as three years old, sent from Britain or its former colony Malta to Australia on cheap labor schemes between 1947 and 1967.

The children allegedly worked "essentially as slaves, for long hours without pay, and were subjected to extreme physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse," the appellate court noted.

The Australian government acknowledged the existence of the program in 2001, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a former apology for the abuse they suffered in 2009.

The next year, the former child migrants sought to hold the Congregation of Christian Brothers, Order of the Sisters of Mercy, Catholic Religious Order and Mercy International liable for violating the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that was briefly reanimated toward the turn of the 20th century to sue companies for overseas atrocities.

The use of this statute to redress corporate wrongs committed abroad has been all but gutted in the wake of last year's Supreme Court's decision in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch ruled on Monday that the alleged victims had no case because of the Kiobel precedent and the statute of limitations.

Lawyers for the former child migrants and the Catholic orders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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