High Court Hears Priest Conduct Case

By William Williams
The City Paper [Nashville TN]
October 7, 2004

Lawyers representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville and the sexual abuse victims of convicted priest Edward McKeown presented arguments to the Tennessee Supreme Court Wednesday as to how the court should interpret standards of liability.

The five-member court will now review the case, in which the plaintiffs claim the diocese should be held responsible for the abuse. No timetable has been set as to when the judges might rule.

The plaintiffs, now in their 20s, seek $8 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages from the diocese.

During the hearing, John Day, the attorney representing plaintiffs John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, focused on the theme of "reckless conduct."

"The standard of liability for reckless conduct should be no less than the standard of liability for negligent conduct," Day, of Branham & Day, told the court.

"The question to be decided is whether the law will require what common notions of morality require," Day said following the one-hour hearing.

Attorney Thomas Mink, representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville, countered Day’s arguments by noting Day has changed his strategy by focusing on the intentional infliction of emotional distress, as opposed to negligent infliction.

"I don’t think the diocese had an intention," Mink, of Mink and Blair, told the justices.

Last year, the Tennessee Court of Appeals sided with Davidson County Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz in his decision that the Nashville diocese was not liable for the molestation that happened years after the diocese ended its affiliation with McKeown.

In its written opinion, the appellate court stated that the plaintiffs (who fault the diocese primarily for not properly investigating and reporting McKeown to authorities) "had failed as a matter of law to satisfy the threshold requirements for stating a claim for the tort of outrageous conduct."

After admitting to church officials of engaging in sexual misconduct in the early 1970s, McKeown was treated in 1987 for his disorder. He received counseling and took injections of Depo-Provera, a birth control drug used to chemically castrate male sex offenders.

In 1989, the diocese removed McKeown from the priesthood after it found he had given a minor a condom as a Christmas gift.

Court documents note the diocese assisted McKeown financially until 1994, with a total of $50,000. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have termed the assistance "hush money."

The plaintiffs met McKeown in the trailer park they lived in. He befriended them and their mothers and in 1994 started molesting John Doe 2 and the following year John Doe 1, court documents read.


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