Court Absolves Church from Suit

By Gregg Zoroya
April 30, 1987

A court commissioner on Wednesday threw out a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church brought on behalf of a Fullerton boy who, at age 8, allegedly was molested by an Anaheim priest on a 1983 camping trip.

Superior Court Commissioner Eleanor M. Palk said allegations in the lawsuit did not properly explain how the church could have anticipated -- and, therefore, possibly prevented -- one of its priests from molesting a child.

"Could it have been reasonably foreseen?" Palk asked rhetorically in handing down her decision. "Or is this an individual act by someone for his own gratification, not foreseeable by the diocese?"

The Rev. Robert Foley is accused of orally copulating the boy and then warning him that "the devil would get" him if he told anyone.

Church leaders later told the boy's mother, Joan Summers, that Foley apologized and asked her to "turn the other cheek." Foley eventually was reassigned to the Diocese of London.

Summers hired attorney Robert Aran of Sherman Oaks, who filed a $ 2.5 million lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court against Foley and the church in 1985.

Wednesday, Palk threw out only those allegations about the church and did not address charges in the lawsuit against Foley. She also granted Aran 30 days to rewrite the complaint so that it could address the question of how the church could have prevented the molestation.

Palk based her decision on an appellate decision that stemmed from the case of a South Bay woman who accused seven priests of seducing her, beginning in 1978 when she was 16, and then secretly sending her to the Philippines when she became pregnant.

Her 1984 lawsuit against the priests and the church alleged that two bishops were told of the seduction and did nothing. Last year, appellate justices dismissed the portion of the lawsuit naming the church as defendant.

The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Attorneys representing the Roman Catholic Bishop of Orange cited this ruling in asking Palk to dismiss allegations against the church in the lawsuit against Foley.

In a written argument, church attorney Peter M. Callahan said the alleged molestation by Foley was "an act committed for his own unnatural gratification and had absolutely nothing to do with the work of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Orange."

Both Summers and her son were members of St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church, where Foley was a visiting priest. The lawsuit says the boy was invited by Foley on a Boy Scouts camping trip in September 1983. During the night, while the child was in a tent with Foley and one other boy, the priest molested him, Aran said.

When the boy told his mother about nine months later, Summers confronted church officials.


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