Judge Denies Boston Archdiocese’s Request to Dismiss Civil Lawsuits
A Superior Court judge yesterday rejected a motion filed by the Archdiocese of Boston, seeking dismissal of 500 civil lawsuits alleging priest sex abuse. Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney disagreed with the archdiocese’s claim that court involvement would violate the Constitution’s call for separation of church and state. Rather, she explained, "If the court were to recognize the defendants' sweeping church autonomy doctrine, which would grant absolute civil immunity to church representatives, the result would be that church representatives could exercise all the rights and privileges the secular law affords yet not be burdened by any of the essential civil laws that protect the safety of all members of society, particularly children," according to the Associated Press. Still, Sweeney made two concessions: deeming the matters as “purely ecclesiastical,” she rejected charges that church supervisors were negligent in ordaining or not removing priests and fully liable for priests’ actions 24 hours a day, according to the Associated Press.
Unhindered, the archdiocese yesterday filed another motion requesting delays—until the grand jury investigation finished—on civil lawsuits against pedophile Rev. Paul Shanley. Shanley, now retired from priesthood, was indicted last June of six counts of indecent assault and battery on children younger than 14 as well as 10 counts of child rape of children younger than 11 years old, including two six-year-olds, according to CNN. The abuse took place over a ten-year span from 1979 to 1989.
The Archdiocese of Boston, which serves roughly 2.1 million Catholics, continues to rationalize its legal maneuvering as a means of placating insurers. However, critics say this behavior is just one more example of the church’s unaccountability. The pending lawsuits could cost the archdiocese $80 million in settlements, according to the BBC.
Similar priest sex abuse scandals have surfaced throughout the nation. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has spent over $2.3 million during the last 14 years and $5 million in insurance monies over the last two decades on priest sex abuse cases, according the Pioneer Press.
In December, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, faced with criminal violations carrying fines as high as $20,000, became the first to settle with state prosecutors.
Media Resources: New York Times 2/20/03; BBC 2/20/03; Associated Press 2/19/03; Pioneer Press 2/20/03; Feminist Daily News Wire