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  Priest Abuse - Duty of Archdiocese

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
April 15, 2009

The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Christian Brothers religious community are separate entities; therefore, the trial court correctly rejected plaintiff's claims against the archdiocese, the Christian Brothers and a member of the Christian Brothers alleging that he was sexually abused by a one of the Christian Brothers while he was attending St. Laurence High School and the brother was serving as a guidance counselor at St. Laurence High.

The 1st District Appellate Court, 1st Division, has affirmed a ruling by Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Joan Larsen.

In April 2006, plaintiff John Doe filed his fifth amended complaint against the Archdiocese of Chicago, Brother Robert Brouillette, the Congregation of the Christian Brothers and St. Laurence High School, alleging that during his freshman and sophomore years at St. Lawrence -- during 1996 to 1998 -- he was sexually molested by Brother Brouillette, who was his guidance counselor and mentor.

The plaintiff alleged that it wasn't until 2002 that he realized that he had been injured by his sexual contact with Brouillette. The plaintiff alleged that the Archdiocese of Chicago was negligent in hiring Brouillette because he should have known of Brouillette's history of pedophilia and therefore failed to exercise reasonable care in hiring Brouillette to provide counseling and mentoring to children.

The Archdiocese of Chicago responded by arguing that while St. Laurence was a Catholic high school, the Archdiocese of Chicago didn't own, operate or control the school. The archdiocese denied that Brouillette was its agent or employee. In April 2004, the archdiocese filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the statute of limitations in section 13-202.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure barred the plaintiff's claims.

After the motion was filed, Brouillette and the Christian Brothers settled with the plaintiff and were dismissed by the trial court.

The archdiocese later filed a supplementary motion for summary judgment in which it argued that it was entitled to judgment because no question of material fact existed as to whether Brouillette was its employee or agent or under its control.

The archdiocese also argued that tort duties may not be imposed based on the interpretation of religious doctrine. In addition, the archdiocese argued that under Illinois law, there is no cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty between a cleric and a church member and that no special relationship existed to allow the imposition of a duty to protect the plaintiff from a criminal act.

The archdiocese also argued that the plaintiff failed to properly allege his fraudulent concealment and civil conspiracy claims.

The archdiocese said there are two types of high schools within the Archdiocese of Chicago: those sponsored by religious communities and those sponsored by the archdiocese. In this case, St. Laurence is sponsored by the Christian Brothers, the archdiocese said.

The trial court granted the supplementary summary judgment motion, finding that the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Christian Brothers were separate entities and that there was no evidence that the Archdiocese of Chicago was in control of the hiring, supervision or retention of St. Laurence employees. The trial court also found that there was no evidence of reliance to support an apparent agency claim by the plaintiff.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the circuit court erred when it found that the plaintiff had failed to prove the element of reliance with regard to an apparent-agency claim. The appeals court rejected that argument and affirmed. The court found that the trial court correctly held that the plaintiff failed to prove the element of reliance with regard to an apparent agency claim.

The appeals court said that it is the plaintiff's burden to prove the existence of an agency relationship and the scope of the authority he seeks to impose on the principal. In this case, the appeals court said the evidence failed to establish that the archdiocese exercised any day-to-day control over the operation of St. Laurence.

The appeals court said the archdiocese's role in a case of sexual misconduct involving a student and a member of a religious order was limited to calling for an investigation and that this investigation would be conducted by the religious order and handled according to its policies.

"At a non-Archdiocesan Catholic school, the cardinal's authority was confined to the area of Catholic dogma and limited to calling for an investigation and 'influencing' a decision by the governing board," the appeals court said.

The appeals court also rejected the plaintiff's claims that the archdiocese held out Brouillette as a trained psychological counselor and that it violated state law by failing to take reasonable action to protect the plaintiff from the brother's improper sexual advances.

John Doe v. Robert Brouillette, et al., No. 1-07-0633. Justice Shelvin L. Hall wrote the court's opinion with Justices Warren D. Wolfson and Rodolfo Garcia concurring. Released March 31.

 
 

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