Church Lawyers Say Abuse Victims Can't Sue

Associated Press, carried in KGO-TV [San Francisco CA]
September 19, 2004

Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church of Northern California argued Friday against a tentative order that would allow abuse victims the right to sue over negligent hiring, firing and supervision of troublesome priests.

In an Alameda County courtroom, church lawyers argued that the damages sought by the victims of decades-old child molestation cases must be limited by the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw issued a temporary ruling Thursday stating a 2002 state law temporarily lifting the statute of limitation on damage suits against institutions that protected known child molesters gave abuse victims the right to sue.

Arguing for the church, lawyer Paul Gaspari said the Constitution forbade punishing the church for the standards it sets for the ordination of priests.

"If a religious institution chooses to ordain a known child molester that it felt had truly repented, it has that constitutional right," Gaspari said. "The government may not second-guess that choice."

Marci Hamilton, a lawyer assisting the abuse victims' legal team, argued that repentance was not relevant to the issue of culpability.

"If the church harms people, it can be held accountable," Hamilton said.

Gaspari said the church can be found negligent for its supervision of priests - but not for its hiring or firing.

Sabraw is expected to issue a final written order sometime this month.


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