Judges Dismiss Allegations from Lawsuits against Catholic Priests
By Mark Morris
Kansas City Star
May 4, 2012
Judges in state and federal court this week dismissed parties and allegations from three civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
In each case, the rulings were a victory for lawyers representing either the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph or an accused priest.
In Jackson County, Circuit Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw on Monday threw out all allegations against the diocese in a suit filed last year by David Tate of Kansas City, who alleged that the Rev. Michael Tierney abused him at Tierney’s mother’s home and at a hotel swimming pool in the early 1970s.
The judge also dismissed eight counts against Tierney, though he still faces civil allegations of childhood sexual abuse and battery.
Tierney has denied all wrongdoing. His lawyer declined comment, citing a gag order in another case against the priest.
In dismissing a childhood sexual abuse claim against the diocese, McGraw found that the church only would be liable if Tierney was engaged in activities within the scope of his employment.
“This court finds that the intentional acts of sexual misconduct do not fall within the scope of a priest’s employment and, in fact, are forbidden,” McGraw wrote.
She also dismissed the notion that the diocese was liable because it somehow aided, abetted and ratified his alleged conduct.
To “impose that liability on the diocese would violate the First Amendment, since it would create an excessive entanglement of church and state,” McGraw wrote.
Tate’s lawyer, Rebecca Randles, said McGraw was strictly interpreting some case law, which has held that if abuse occurred off church property, then the diocese could not be considered liable. Randles said she soon would ask McGraw to reconsider her order. Should that fail, Randles said, she plans an immediate appeal.
A spokeswoman for the diocese issued a statement saying that the rulings reflected a sound interpretation of the law.
“The diocese believes that these rulings reflect just responses to the facts and relevant law in these cases,” the statement said. “While the diocese continues to pursue resolution of these civil claims, it recognizes that any person who has suffered sexual abuse deserves care and compassion.”
In federal court Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner dismissed from two lawsuits parents who claimed that they suffered damages after the Rev. Shawn Ratigan allegedly took lewd photographs of their daughters.
Ratigan, who was arrested last year, is facing state and federal child pornography charges.
Fenner ruled that only the child victims of Ratigan’s alleged conduct are eligible to collect damages under federal law.
“Parents are not ‘victims’ under (the law) because they are not persons who … were personally injured by the alleged sexual exploitation and … were not minors at the time the alleged sexual exploitation occurred,” Fenner wrote.
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