Religious institutions have constitutional protections, but they are not above the law. Unfortunately, that has not stopped the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups from arguing that the First Amendment shields them from civil lawsuits for negligent supervision and retention of employees who sexually abuse children. Most state courts that have considered the issue have rejected this claim by churches, recognizing that holding religious employers liable for failure to monitor employees in sex-abuse cases does not interfere with constitutionally protected religious freedoms. However, courts in Missouri, Wisconsin and Utah have twisted the First Amendment into a shield for organizational liability for pedophile clergy. In an outrageous case, a Missouri appellate court summarily dismissed a negligence case brought against the Archdiocese of St. Louis by an individual who said he had been abused by a priest. His suit charged the archdiocese with negligent failure to supervise the priest, who had a past record of child sexual abuse. The court threw out the complaint, saying that Missouri law does not allow it because judging the supervision of the priest would require inquiry into religious doctrine, which it contends would violate the First Amendment. This bizarre conclusion would grant churches a special exemption from neutral, generally applicable laws designed to protect children. The United States Supreme Court now has an opportunity to reverse this erroneous interpretation of the Constitution. The justices should grant the plaintiff's petition for review, which they are scheduled to consider on Friday. Since some 20 states have not ruled on this issue, the Supreme Court can provide urgently needed clarity. It should firmly declare that the First Amendment does not exempt religious entities from accountability for exposing children to harm. THE NEW YORK TIMES, Editorial - March 14, 2012
In its effort to defend itself from an accusation of sexual abuse by one of its priests, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hartford collided in court Friday with one of the unflinchingly obedient Catholic families that form its core. The retired parents of an altar boy took the witness stand and described the day they were shaken by their by-then grown son's disclosure that a priest, known to the family for years, abused him and his best friend while the boys attended a diocesan grammar school in Derby.
About five years ago, a visiting priest from Haiti was looking for a parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport to call home for a time. His travels brought him to St. Mary's Parish on Greenwich Avenue, whose pastor offered the priest, Jean Marie DeGraff, room and board while DeGraff was working in the diocese and advocating for his impoverished home country of Haiti. In return, DeGraff performed duties around the parish as needed, including assisting with Mass and speaking with parishioners, a role he filled between 2007 and 2008. DeGraff, who became a priest in the Society of St. Jacques in Haiti in 2004, traveled throughout the diocese, which encompasses Fairfield County, with the permission of Bishop William Lori, speaking at parishes about his home country. Diocese officials know DeGraff, 49, performed a variety of duties at St. Mary and moved around the diocese. But that's where officials' knowledge of his movements ends. The diocese says it has no record of where else in the diocese the priest served. The case of DeGraff, who now stands accused of sexual misconduct charges in Canada and was previously accused of abuse in Connecticut, has victims' advocates calling for greater transparency from the Catholic Church with respect to alleged incidents of abuse.
During oral arguments at the California Supreme Court, several justices appear skeptical about allowing flexible deadlines for lawsuits against those who knew about abuse and didn't stop it.
Reporting from San Francisco -- The California Supreme Court appeared reluctant Thursday to give adult victims of child molestation the right to sue decades later those who knew of the abuse and failed to stop it.
Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney saw this article written by Susan Campbell of the Hartford Courant and thought it brought up an interesting point. She has written many articles on sexual abuse and different sexual abuse scandals. The article follows, but we thought it would be helpful to define a mandated reporter. Under Connecticut law, the following people are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse: doctors, nurses, medical examiners, dentists, dental hygienists, psychologists, coaches, school teachers, school principals, school guidance counselors, school paraprofessionals, social workers, police officers, juvenile or adult probation and /or parole officers, members of the clergy, pharmacists, physical therapists, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists,
For almost two decades, lawyers at the Bridgeport firm of Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney have taken seriously the complaints of child sexual abuse plaintiffs. The firm took on the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and Hartford's St. Francis Hospital, winning millions in damages. Now, the details of a long-running grand jury investigation have rocked Penn State University with a stunning child sexual abuse scandal. Public opinion and awareness has markedly changed since the late Paul Tremont, a founding partner, filed his first suits against pedophile priests in 1993. "It was a very unwelcoming climate for these kinds of cases," says partner Cynthia Robinson, who has focused her practice on child sexual abuse cases.
By James E. Connell, JOurnal Sentinel Oct. 24, 2011 An excellent opportunity exists for the Catholic bishops in the United States to begin rebuilding the people's trust in them that has been severely damaged because of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis. This opportunity is found in the audit process to verify that each diocese actually is in compliance with the requirements of the charter that was originally established by the bishops in 2002 to enhance the protection of children from sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Remember, whether committed by force or by seduction, every act of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest is a crime, both in civil law and in church law. So in discussing sexual abuse of minors by priests, we are not talking about the actions of schoolyard bullies. We are talking about the actions of criminals. This must be the starting point for addressing this crisis and scandal in the church. Therefore, the audit process is a critical component in the church's effort to protect children and young people. Here are six concrete steps to improve the audit process to verify that each diocese in the United States actually complies with the charter.
Catholic Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City has just been indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse. The offender, one of his priests, apparently was a photographer of some considerable energy. According to the indictment, as reported by the New York Times, the bishop for some six months failed to report evidence found on the priest's laptop, and thus he is charged with ignoring "previous knowledge regarding Father Rattigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Father Rattigan's laptop, including a child's naked vagina, upskirt images and images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions placed on Father Rattigan." Apparently during the six months, the priest went to children's parties, hosted an Easter egg hunt and presided -- with the bishop's permission -- at the first communion of a young girl. The bishop is fighting back. "We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense." No one is guilty until judged by their peers, but one gathers that the facts of the matter are not really in dispute. The question is whether the bishop is legally liable. Apparently a police officer was told about one of the pictures and opined that (even though the kid was naked from the waist down) he did not think that it would meet the definition of child pornography and that was that for six months. In a way, this sort of thing has become so common that one is almost inclined to read with a sigh and turn away to other things. Which of course is precisely the action we must not have. Wickedness never ends and we must be ever vigilant. Edmund Burke was right: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Thank goodness the legal authorities in Kansas City are doing their duty and making sure that whatever has happened it is brought into the light and the guilty punished. And even if the guilty are not necessarily found legally culpable, then they are still shown to be morally guilty and deserving of condemnation. And thank goodness the legal authorities are recognizing that those in charge have responsibility, especially if through their actions they allow bad states of fares to persist.