Hiding behind the First Amendment

Hiding behind the First Amendment

The bishop of San Bernardino, California, discusses his lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Boston. He says that he decided to sue Boston after they declined to pay any costs associated with lawsuits over abuse by Paul Shanley when he moved out there. I think the prudence of the lawsuit is suspect, but the Vatican doesn’t seem to care as Bishop Barnes said he hasn’t heard anything from Rome on the subject.

He also addresses the diocese’s First Amendment motion to have a clergy sex-abuse lawsuit thrown out:

Barnes also talked about arguments made by San Bernardino diocesan attorneys, who assert that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom exempts the church from lawsuits alleging that it negligently employed priests accused of molestation.

“I think the civil courts cannot dictate how we supervise,” Barnes said.

In March, a San Bernardino County judge agreed, tossing out parts of a lawsuit brought by a woman who accused Monsignor Patrick O’Keeffe of fondling her in 1990 when she was a 14-year-old parishioner of a Chino church.

Why shouldn’t the courts have a say in how they supervise priests? It’s not as if such supervision is a tenet of Catholic belief. The bishop has an obligation to prevent men engaged in sex abuse and are representatives of the bishop from being given the opportunity to do so. Can you imagine the chaos if this precedent is upheld? A bishop could ignore the actions of a priest engaged in reprehensible behavior—sex abuse, fraud, or whatnot—and be shielded from lawsuits. That would effectively undo all the progress made over the past year and endorse the cover up that so many bishops engaged in.