Catholic church can't claim priest was 'off-duty': Editorial
June 03, 2014
|Chris Naples and the Rev. Terence McAlinden on a trip to the Virgin Islands. Naples says the priest sexually assaulted him there and on other trips.|
In a case of flawless logic, the Catholic Church’s lawyers have discovered a magical loophole that absolves the church of legal responsibility for crimes committed by its priests: a holy punch clock.
Catholic priests, we now know — courtesy of a Delaware Supreme Court hearing in a New Jersey priest-abuse lawsuit — can be “off duty.” When they’re not officially priests, lawyers for the Diocese of Trenton argued, the church shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions.
“How do we determine when a priest is and is not on duty,” one justice asked.
“Well,” the diocese’s lawyer explained, “you can determine a priest is not on duty when he is molesting a child, for example.”
If their legal Hail Mary works, it would effectively cloak the Catholic Church in a legal state of grace. Bishops could argue that any time a priest breaks the law — in this case, he’s accused of molesting a boy during youth outings to Delaware — he’s on personal time, absolving the church of liability.
Abused by predatory priests? Sorry, kids, they were off the clock.
The Delaware court released the church from the lawsuit because the now-grown victim couldn’t prove the trips — where he claims his priest molested him — were church-sanctioned. The suit has since been refiled in New Jersey, so church attorneys can try their “off-duty” claims again.
It’s a tough sell. Catholic rules are ironclad. Even off-duty priests are expected to stay celibate and single. If this “off-duty” sleight-of-hand succeeds, what else could priests do? Steal from the poor box?
The church is obligated to answer for its priests’ attacks. While the church should have an opportunity to argue its legal responsibilities, this attempt to escape blame with a magical punch clock is as disgusting as it is silly.