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#84812 - 07/10/02 07:17 PM Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
orodo Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 03/15/02
Posts: 735
Loc: Imladris, The Safe Haven of Ar...
Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Court keeps church safeguard
Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling

Press Herald Staff Reporter,

Copyright 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

PORTLAND A legal barrier that makes it nearly impossible to sue religious institutions for the actions of clergy remains intact following a Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision announced Tuesday.

Although the case did not involve the Roman Catholic Church, the decision is viewed as a defeat for people who say they were sexually abused by priests, but have not been able sue the church in state courts because of a legal doctrine which considers the supervision of clergy to be protected by the Constitution.

In the 4-2 decision announced Tuesday, the court sidestepped constitutional issues that had been raised in a case that challenged that doctrine. That leaves the current law in place and means churches are protected from lawsuits.

"It's not what I would call a victory for the victims, but it doesn't mean that we are defeated," said Sumner Lipman, an Augusta lawyer who represents a man who says he was repeatedly molested by a priest who had a history of sexual abuse known to his superiors.

The first case that is likely to be affected was filed last year by Michael Fortin of Sidney, who said he was molested repeatedly by his parish priest, the Rev. Raymond Melville.

"The issue is not fully decided. There are some green lights here," Lipman said.

The court's decision on Tuesday involved the appeal of a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a Protestant minister.

Mariah Napieralski charged that Kenneth Williamson, her pastor at the Unity Church of Greater Portland, forced her to have sex while she visited his home to sell him insurance. She sued both Williamson and the church, charging that the church board knew about other allegations of sexual misconduct against the minister and should have protected her. But before the merits of her case could be discussed, the lawsuit was dismissed under the religious freedom doctrine established in the 1997 Maine Supreme Court case known as Swanson v. the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland.

In that case, a couple from Gray went to their parish priest in 1990 to discuss getting remarried in a Catholic ceremony. While counseling them, the priest became involved in a consensual sexual relationship with the woman. This led to the couple's divorce. While the divorce was being contested, the couple's son killed himself.

The pair separately sued the priest and the church, charging that his actions destroyed their family and that the church should have protected them from him.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court. In its 5-2 decision in 1997, justices ruled that the method a church uses to select, train and supervise a priest is a matter of religious doctrine and beyond the scrutiny of secular law. The court ruled that the relationship of a bishop and priest involves beliefs in penance, sin and reconciliation that could not be examined in court without violating the church's rights established in the U.S. and Maine constitutions.

In Tuesday's decision upholding the dismissal of Napieralski's case, the court avoided the issue of religious freedom. Instead, the court's majority said negligent supervision claims against employers have never been recognized in Maine, unlike in some other states, and that it would be inappropriate to allow such a claim given the facts of Napieralski's lawsuit.

"The facts here involve contact between adults for the purpose of addressing a private, personal matter unrelated to the business or function of the Unity Church," Justice Donald Alexander wrote.

Two dissenting justices said the plaintiff should be allowed to uncover additional facts before having her lawsuit dismissed.

"Without specific facts, it is impossible to fully consider the merit of adopting the tort of negligent supervision," wrote Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, who wrote the majority opinion in the 1997 case.

Napieralski's lawyers expressed surprise and disappointment over the ruling.

"It's just an outrageous position to take in the 21st century. If you have a situation where the supervisors of the clergy know about sexual abuse and do nothing about it, then in Maine, tough luck to the victims," said Edward Rabasco.

The decision appears to leave open the question as to whether Maine churches are immune from such lawsuits under the constitutional separation of church and state, said Verne Paradie Jr., another lawyer representing Napieralski.

Frederick Moore, a lawyer who has represented the Catholic Church in several sex abuse cases, said in an April interview that the ordinary rules of employee supervision shouldn't apply to churches. Denominations base their practices on their religious teachings, he said, and churches decide how to train or discipline ministers based on their interpretations of specific passages from the Bible.

Courts would have a difficult time determining whether those churches are following adequate supervision policies without intruding into matters of religious teaching, Moore said.

On Tuesday, he supported the narrow ruling of the court.

"I think the law court has clearly said if it's not the employer's business being conducted, then the church has no responsibility. And I think that's absolutely fair," he said.

Moore moved to have Fortin's case dismissed, claiming the church's constitutional protection under Maine law. In a hearing in January, Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup said he would not rule until the Supreme Court decided the Napieralski case. Studstrup's decision is expected soon.

But Lipman, Fortin's lawyer, said the Supreme Court did not completely shut the door to his client. He plans to file an immediate motion asking for more information from the church. If the case is dismissed, he predicted the decision would be appealed, sending the church's constitutional protection back to the Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

_________________________
It is better to be Dragon Master than Dragon Slayer. Some Dragons are meant to be mastered, others meant to be slain. Odin, Great Spirit, God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference. "May the Valar guide and bless you on your path under the sky"

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#84813 - 07/13/02 01:17 PM Re: Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
Bob Wheelock Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/14/02
Posts: 15
Loc: Milwaukee, WI
I am both a Catholic priest and a survivor. The Cathlic can't supervise every minute of ever priests life. HOWEVER, they have much more than the Bible and spirituality to use to discipline it's priests. We need the bishops permission to practice in a Diocese. That means to say a public Mass, preach, hear confessions or celebrate any Sacraments. It is similar to a physician who is licensed in one or two states but cannot go to another state and just start practicing medicine. He has to pass State tests, a Lawyer has to pass a particular States Bar.
If aq Bishop or religious Superior hears that a priest or Brother is abusive they can and must take action. To say otherwise is ignorant. Once they know that the persona may be a danger they can and should greatly restrict his freedom and his "privileges." It the claims are shown to be false he can be re-instated. But that is up to civil authorities to decide. Bishops and religious Superiors are not proswecutors or detectives. They need to hire investigators who are professionals and they should be required to do so in every State of the Union.


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#84814 - 07/13/02 11:42 PM Re: Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
orodo Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 03/15/02
Posts: 735
Loc: Imladris, The Safe Haven of Ar...
IMHO, if Church and State must remain separated and the State will not prosecute or hold priests and bishops accountable for their actions, then perhaps I need a Plaintiff's Canon Lawyer.

_________________________
It is better to be Dragon Master than Dragon Slayer. Some Dragons are meant to be mastered, others meant to be slain. Odin, Great Spirit, God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference. "May the Valar guide and bless you on your path under the sky"

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#84815 - 07/14/02 02:18 PM Re: Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
Bob Wheelock Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/14/02
Posts: 15
Loc: Milwaukee, WI
Hi Orodo,
I do not know what the letters mean. But I do not think a person should have to hire a canon lawyer. If you were abused by a priest you have rights and should not be hindered by a phony separqtion of church and state. I do not think that the arguement in the case of the Sidney man bears weight. The church is not so separate from the state that we can committ felonies and not be prosecuted. That has never been a problem when a pastor is caught stealing money from a parish or a cemetery fund etc. A crime is a crime is a crime is a crime.
I am terribly sorry if you were abused by a priest. I cannot even imagine how you must feel if that is so. You were betrayed by a person who should have loved and protected you with his life if necessary. As a survivor I know that I have suffered so much that I really wonder if I will be really healed before I die. I would not want to discourqge others from having that hope. But it seems a dim hope for me. Although Iam feeling better than I have in a long time.
Orodo, I am so sorry that you were hurt. All I can say is that those abused by priests need to keep working for their own justice and for making the children today to be safe from this perverted human mess. It just might be a good idea to have a canon (church law) lawyer. But it is sad if it comes to that. Lawyers have been a curse on the American Cathoic Church making us obey them rather than serve and minister to the people as our committment calls us to do. I do not hate lawyers, but some lawyers have really harmed the church by not demanding that it do what the gospel calls us to do and be. What a disappointment many of us must be to Jesus! I remain grateful to be a priest, but I am demoralized by the scandal of abusive priests and then a church that put it's pride ahead of ministry to the suffering. How do we ever really get reconciled with those of you harmed by priewsts, Brothers and Sisters?
I would do anything I could to be an insrument of healing and peace to you, even if I am a very badly broken "healer."
Much love to you and all who have been harmed, especially by church people.
Peace and everything that is good be with you.
Fr. Bob Wheelock


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#84816 - 07/14/02 02:22 PM Re: Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
Bob Wheelock Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/14/02
Posts: 15
Loc: Milwaukee, WI
Just a further thought on the so-called separation of church and state. I think it is the cowards way out when they want to do nothing. Some years ago an Archbishop in Minneapolis St. Paul was in an accident in which he was DUI. He was ticketed, sentenced and spent a day and night in jail for it. If DUI is a crime for a priest or a bishop then sexual abuse or any abuse is too.


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#84817 - 07/18/02 12:31 PM Re: Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
integrator Offline
Member

Registered: 07/05/02
Posts: 107
Loc: New York
I just want to clarify the issue hear as I understand it. In this article, what is discussed is the dismissal of a suit against the Unity Church after an alleged sexual violation by a priest. The Church has never been held liable for supervisory neglect in a case like this. It sounds like there would need to be evidence that the priest's transgressions were reported to the supervisors and ignored. Is this an issue in the other cases where this is the case?


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#84818 - 07/18/02 11:35 PM Re: Sidney man's abuse case likely to be 1st affected by narrow ruling
orodo Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 03/15/02
Posts: 735
Loc: Imladris, The Safe Haven of Ar...
"I think the law court has clearly said if it's not the employer's business being conducted, then the church has no responsibility. And I think that's absolutely fair," he said.

Imagine if your employer were able to employ this defense against any sexual harrassment lawsuit.

So the issue here is, the State will not get invovled. Tough luck for victims and survivors. All I gotta say is, if I were employed anywhere, except the Church, and behaved in a sexually harassing way, one could rest assured that I and my employer would be prosecuted and probably found guilty, and sentenced accordingly. Not to mention that I would be fired. All I would have to do is tell a dirty joke to someone who interpreted the joke to be "sexual harrassment". That would be the end of the story there. But I guess it's ok if you work for the Church to sexually harrass, abuse, molest, rape, assault, children or anyone that one can find. It's sanctioned by the employer apparenly, and is protected under the Constitution of the United States. God (?) Bless America.

_________________________
It is better to be Dragon Master than Dragon Slayer. Some Dragons are meant to be mastered, others meant to be slain. Odin, Great Spirit, God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference. "May the Valar guide and bless you on your path under the sky"

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