Fraud Suit Revived against Diocese
Courts: a Divided Appeals Court Says a Church Has a Duty to Investigate Charges of Child Abuse by Priests and Tell Its Parishioners

By Gregg Zoroya
Orange County Register
May 4, 1993

An appeals court has ruled that the Roman Catholic Church has a special duty to warn parishioners about a priest who might molest their children _ a decision exposing the Diocese of Orange to possible liability in one case.

"Parishioners have a right to expect that the church hierarchy will not tolerate criminal conduct by its priests and will surely warn them of the danger," wrote Associate Justice Thomas F. Crosby Jr.

The appeals court reinstated a lawsuit by a parishioner accusing the diocese of fraud and intentional deceit for failing to investigate an Anaheim priest accused of molesting children.

The woman, now a Sacramento resident, alleged that her son was a victim in 1984 of the Rev. Robert Foley, a priest at St. Justin Martyr. The boy was 10.

The appeals ruling, released Monday, allows the lawsuit to proceed to trial, unless the Catholic Church seeks a hearing before the state Supreme Court. Lawyers and spokesmen for the church did not return calls.

The opinion, issued by a divided 4th District Court of Appeal, was ordered not to be published in official legal journals. That means it cannot be used as established case law for other lawyers to rely on in the future.

The woman's lawyer, Thomas Hahn, said the ruling might have remained unpublished because the justices were sharply divided.

Presiding Justice David G. Sills, who saw no legal duty for the church to warn parishioners about priests, accused Crosby in an addendum of making "gratuitous comments about the relationship of the Catholic Church to its parishioners which are beyond the purview of the civil court. "

Crosby sharply disagreed: "Man's law has also been offended and mortal plaintiffs are entitled to their recovery before Judgment Day. "

The mother said she questioned her son about Foley after seeing news reports that the priest allegedly abused another boy. A lawsuit filed by her son against the church was settled and the terms sealed.

No criminal charges were filed against Foley, who was reassigned to Ireland.

The mother argued that the church should have investigated to see if there were more victims and advise parishioners with children.


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