|Judge Okays Evidence Bishop Protected Pedophile Priests
By Brian Joyce
June 14, 2007
A judge Thursday cleared the way for use of trial evidence indicating Vermont Catholic leaders covered up sex abuse by priests.
A jury could hear that evidence next week in the case of a man who claims he was molested by a priest 30 years ago.
More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against Vermont's Roman Catholic Diocese claiming church leaders protected pedophile priests.
The Diocese has already paid out more than $1.4 million to settle the first four suits.
Next week the fifth sex abuse case is scheduled to go to trial and, if the church loses, the jury will be permitted to make a huge award.
The lawsuit claims that former Vermont priest Alfred Willis sexually molested a teenage boy in the late seventies.
Church records show the diocese defrocked Willis eight years later after he sexually abused other boys but diocese leaders did not call the cops.
In fact the Diocesan records reportedly show that the church hierarchy, including former Bishop John Marshall, not only knew about Willis's activities but even met with prosecutors in an effort to prevent criminal charges or publicity.
Church lawyers argued that using that evidence at trial would be unfair because Willis's molestation of children in the eighties was unrelated to the unproven allegations in the seventies that are the basis for the lawsuit.
Judge Ben Joseph disagreed.
In his ruling the judge explains that the jury could conclude based on evidence that the Vermont Roman Catholic Diocese tolerated sexual abuse of children by priests and even attempted to obstruct justice to protect itself from civil suits and to cover-up crimes.
Judge Joseph also ruled that there would be no limit on the amount the jury could award in damages as punishment to set an example, if the jury agrees the church was negligent.
300 people have been called in to be in the pool for jury selection scheduled to begin Monday. That's an unusually large pool. The judge and lawyers agreed a large pool was required because many potential jurors may have to be excused because they have strong feelings for or against the church. Also others may have to be excused because they have formed opinions based on media coverage.
Jury selection is expected to take at least two days with trial scheduled to begin next Wednesday at the Superior Court in Burlington.
A jury in a previous case against the diocese awarded more than 900-thousand dollars. While the plaintiff's lawyer in this case is not yet revealing how much he will seek in damages for his client, he plans plan to present evidence detailing the diocese's wealth and assessed property values.
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