Judge Dismisses Suit Filed by Alleged Church Abuse Victims

Associated Press, carried in
November 22, 2006

Philadelphia - A federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought against the Philadelphia Archdiocese by 13 people who say they were abused by Roman Catholic priests, ruling that the plaintiffs cannot sue the church under the law the government uses to prosecute gangsters.

U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis, in a ruling issued Monday, wrote that the plaintiffs failed to show that any conduct alleged in the lawsuit qualified as racketeering.

Davis also wrote that the plaintiffs' claims of personal injury, including emotional distress and loss of earnings, are personal injuries not covered by the anti-racketeering law.

The alleged abuse victims argued that the archdiocese violated federal conspiracy and anti-racketeering laws by engaging in a widespread cover-up of child abuse by priests.

The statutes are most commonly used to prosecute organized crime, and lawyers in other states also have been unsuccessful in using the laws in alleged priest abuse cases.

"It is the duty of the judiciary to apply the law as it is written, and as such this court cannot force a moral wrong into a legal mold where it clearly does not fit," Davis wrote. "The remedy lies with Congress, not with the courts."

The federal suit was practically the only way for victims to get redress, their attorneys have said. Pennsylvania courts, citing the statute of limitations, have barred victims from filing personal injury claims.

The archdiocese had argued that anti-racketeering laws were designed to stop criminals from interfering with legal businesses and that victims of racketeering must prove damage to business or property.

Information from: The Legal Intelligencer,


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