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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Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., is a father of five and husband, a Roman Catholic, born in Boston, educated at Franciscan University of Steubenville, who has worked in Catholic media--print, broadcast, and online--since the mid-90s. Find out all about Dom on his About Me page. He is also the CEO of the StarQuest Production Network at sqpn.com. All opinions on this site are solely those of Domenico Bettinelli and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else. See the disclaimer for further details.