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  Diocese Argues It Has Immunity in Braio Lawsuit

By Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette [Worcester, MA]
Downloaded July 15, 2003

WORCESTER- A lawyer for the Worcester Catholic Diocese argued in Superior Court yesterday that a civil lawsuit charging Auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger with rape should be dismissed.

Diocesan lawyer James G. Reardon Jr. said the lawsuit is incomplete and that plaintiff Sime J. Braio cannot demonstrate that the diocese is not entitled to the protection of common law charitable immunity.

Mr. Reardon said the court should not entertain theological, religious or ecclesiastical questions that Mr. Braio's lawyer, Daniel J. Shea of Houston, has injected into the proceedings.

"It's just wild accusations thrown out there for the purposes of some sort of discovery," Mr. Reardon said.

The rape is alleged to have happened in the early 1960s. Mr. Reardon argued that in a previous clergy sexual abuse case, the Worcester Superior Court "specifically held that charitable immunity applies to any cause of action based on activities alleged to have occurred prior to 1971."

Mr. Shea, in his filing with the court, said the pre-1971 charitable immunity ruling did not dismiss the direct negligence claim against the diocesan corporation for negligent hiring and or supervision. He said the ruling did not affect criminal actions that happened outside the scope of the charity.

Judge Leila R. Kern took the matter under advisement.

Mr. Shea argued that the church has taken steps as an institution to cover up clergy sexual abuse and that evidence of that has bearing in his client's claim against Bishop Rueger.

He attempted to illustrate the point during pretrial questioning in May of Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan, diocesan chancellor and liaison to Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte. Mr. Shea brought up the existence of an official church document that he said placed instances of clergy sexual abuse into the realm of "pontifical secrecy."

"What's that all about? Doesn't that sound to you like obstruction of justice?" Mr. Shea asked.

At that point, Mr. Reardon objected to the question and Monsignor Sullivan answered "No."

Mr. Shea continued, "Where does it say in this document, "And while you're at it, pick up the phone and call John Conte?'"

Mr. Reardon, in his filing with the court, argued that, "There can be no civil liability based upon the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, for in order to impose such liability the court would necessarily have to delve into the validity of the teachings and rule on their applicability in the civil realm. Civil jurisdiction over such controversies is clearly precluded by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Mr. Braio filed suit against the diocese and Bishop Rueger a year ago. He said that Bishop Rueger, who was then a priest at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, began sexually abusing him at age 13.

 
 

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