Supreme Court Refuses Church-State Case Involving Child Sex Abuse by Clergy

By Richey, Warren | The Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Refuses Church-State Case Involving Child Sex Abuse by Clergy


Richey, Warren, The Christian Science Monitor


US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal by a man who says he was abused by a Roman Catholic priest decades ago. He sought to challenge the archdiocese's assertion that the First Amendment shields it from a lawsuit.

The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a case challenging the use of the First Amendment's separation of church and state as a shield to block a negligence lawsuit against a Roman Catholic archdiocese that hired and supervised a priest accused of being a pedophile.

The high court action ends an attempt to hold the Catholic Church legally accountable for alleged sexual abuse that took place more than 40 years ago.

The plaintiff in the case says he was twice sexually abused by a trusted parish priest when he was 13 or 14 years old. The priest, who has since died, was assigned to a Catholic Church in St. Louis.

The plaintiff, identified only as "John Doe," sued the Archdiocese of St. Louis for negligence for employing the priest in positions where he would have contact with children.

"The Archdiocese was aware of past instances of child sexual abuse involving [Father Thomas] Cooper, and knew that leaving him alone with children was likely to result in harm," writes Marci Hamilton in her brief on behalf of Mr. Doe.

Because Father Cooper has since died, the civil case was dropped against him. But Doe sought to hold the archdiocese accountable for its failure to protect him and other children.

The archdiocese defended the suit by claiming the First Amendment bars judicial examination of hiring and supervisory decisions within a religious organization. The archdiocese also argued that the suit must be dismissed because the alleged sexual acts did not take place on church property.

According to the lawsuit, Cooper invited Doe to a "clubhouse," where the priest allegedly engaged in oral rape and attempted anal rape with Doe.

The Missouri courts agreed with the archdiocese and dismissed the lawsuit.

In his appeal to the US Supreme Court, Doe had asked the high court to reverse a 2010 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court finding broad First Amendment protection against government intrusion into church matters.

In throwing out Doe's lawsuit, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District noted that courts in Missouri have declined to recognize a cause of action for negligent failure to supervise clergy. …

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