Court says victims can sue formators

Court says victims can sue formators

A Washington state appeals court has ruled that victims can sue the religious order that trained the priests who abused them. In this case, it was the Sulpicians who operated the now-closed seminary outside Seattle who are under the gun.

The crux of the lawsuit is that those charged with forming the seminarians should not have advanced them for ordination if they allegedly knew they were likely to abuse.

At the seminary, each student was assigned a “spiritual director,” a priest who oversaw the student’s development and acted as a confessor, court documents said.

O’Donnell has testified in depositions that he was open with his spiritual director about his interest in sexual contact with children and his struggle with his sexual orientation, the opinion said.

Lawyers for the seminary contended the spiritual director, identified in documents only as Father Basso, could not have shared with others what O’Donnell told him in confession. Thus there is no proof that seminary directors knew O’Donnell was a pedophile, they argued.

O’Donnell served as a priest from 1971 until 1985. At least 65 boys have accused him of abusing them, court records showed.

Are all meetings between the spiritual director and his charge covered under the sacrament of confession and its seal? Maybe some priests or seminarians can clarify, but my understanding is that they are not. In fact, I seem to recall that other court cases have determined that they are not all covered, but only those which are actual confessions. Correct me if I’m wrong.

On the other side, this is an interesting legal tactic, i.e. holding the formators responsible. I wonder how far the various lawyers will take this. After all, didn’t the several treatment centers to which the perverts were sent clear many of them for return to ministry, only to have them abuse again and again? It seems this might open the door to lawsuits against St. Luke’s in Maryland and the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico and others like them. Wouldn’t those trials and depositions be interesting? I think we’re not done with the purge yet.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
9 comments
  • It won’t end until the lawyers have all the money, and everyone and everything else is bankrupt.

  • In 1993 the victims of James Porter sued the Servants of the Paraclete in New mexico. The Paracletes settled for $8M+. The founder of the Paracletes, Gerald Fitzgerald, called the abusers rattlesnakes and said they should not be put back into parishes where they would endanger children. The Pope removed Fitzgerald; the new superiors sent abusers out into parishes, where,as Fitzgerald had predicted, they abused children. The Paracletes and the Vatican didn’t seem to care about that.

  • I might get flamed here, or even banned, but…

    This stuff, the legal stuff, is a blessing.  It will help us purge Christs church of the moral cowards who enabled this scandal.  yes, i’m talking about the Lavender Mafia and the relativists.

    Buy basically disabling the factions that see the Church more as a corperate entity rather than as The Body of Christ, through destroying their credibility, we can get back to being the Body of Christ, instead of this huge corperate entity that does social services and trys so hard to keep everything under the rug.

    I do hold those resposible, who let these perverts through the formation process.

  • Sue the Sulpicians for bad formation of seminarians?  If that’s how it is, they’ll be bankrupt in mere days, and Mental – er – Menlo Park will have to be sold for parking space.

  • I went to a Sulp seminary—St. Pat’s—and the confidentiality of the spiritual director-seminarian relationship was similar to that of the confessional.  Not sure if that is addressed anywhere in canon law but it is a standard part of the Sulpician formation process. 

    Never heard of this “Fr. Bosso” but if the pervert priest is telling the truth, the director would have his hands tied and wouldn’t have been able to inform the faculy of the menance.

  • Canon 240, paragraph 2 states:

    “In deciding about the admission of students to orders, or their dismissal from the seminary, the vote of the spiritual director and the confessors may never be sought.”

    This corresponds to my own experience; all private conversations with spiritual directors were understood to be part of the “internal forum,” that is, free from any public scrutiny—under the “seal of the confessional” in popular parlance.

    In terms of United States law, I have no idea what standing that canonical provision might have.

  • Only those conversations inside the seal of confession—the confession of sins, the prayers of the priest, the assignment of the penance-are exempt.

    I know as well as anybody that “the sacrament of penance” has undergone a lot of sprawl since V2. I don’t like the sprawl and try to limit it.  IE if the priest wants to visit, talk about things in general, do more than offer cursory advice, we have to wait til after confession.

    REmember, that if the priest is offering true spiritual guidance for your own good, there is nothing he should be saying that he couldn’t say at Broadway and Main. On the other hand, if he just wants to talk, okay, I can do that too, but that’s different from the sacrament of confession.

    It behooves the penitent to make sure the bounds of confession stay regular.  It prevents trouble.

  • Michigancatholic – nobody’s talking about confession or the sacrament of penance.  The question is as to whether conversations between a seminary spiritual director and a seminarian are (a) part of the internal forum and therefore non-disclosable, and (b) protected by the law of the United States from forcible disclosure.

    As I noted above, the Church sees the give-and-take between director and directee to be an indispensable part of the formation process, and therefore precludes (in Canon 204 par.2) the spiritual director from being asked to testify as to the worthiness of a candidate for Holy Order.  Whether US law affords this director-directee relationship the same status of privilege that it affords, say, the psychiatrist-patient relationship, is what is at question here.

    Again, this is NOT about confession sprawl.

  • I understand, Fr. Jim.  You are discussing whether the relationship between a seminarian directee and a seminary director is privileged in the same sort of way as a doctor patient relationship in therapy.

    I’m saying that there is a miserable blurring between matters psychological and matters spiritual and we need to learn to put things in the right bucket. 

    It is my opinion that these things are handled very poorly in general and that the church has taken quite a few hits because things that should be considered in the decision to ordain are not because they are covered by this privilege.

    But then I believe that people who have something to hide, like homosexuality for instance, shouldn’t ever be ordained.  We’ve already got way too many gay priests, for instance—more than way too many.  JMHO.

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