Family Can Sue Diocese over Abuse

By Maureen Fan
Daily News
March 13, 1997

An Elmhurst, Queens, family can sue the Diocese of Brooklyn for failing to supervise a priest who sexually abused three young boys, an appeals court has ruled.

But the Appellate Division dismissed the family's charge that the Church had been negligent in hiring Enrique Diaz Jimenez, who worked at St. Leo's and Our Lady of Sorrows churches in Corona.

Jimenez was arrested in 1990 and accused of repeatedly sodomizing the boys two brothers and a cousin from November 1986 to February 1989. Jimenez pleaded guilty in 1991 to first-degree sexual abuse, was sentenced to jail and probation and was deported to his native Venezuela.

The boys, now 15, 18 and 21, and their parents filed a $ 60 million lawsuit against the diocese in 1989 accusing Church officials of knowing about the priest's propensities but doing nothing to stop him.

Kenneth Litwack, a Queens lawyer representing the young men, said Jimenez had befriended the boys and persuaded them to engage in sex acts "by telling them that God had wanted them to."

He said the children complained to other Church officials, who did nothing despite a religious law that requires priests to be prosecuted internally for wrongdoing.

"The Church has gone to great lengths to say that it would deal forthrightly and openly with these issues," Litwack said. "But this case shows the Church attempted to run from its responsibilities."

The appeals court rejected the Church's argument that it was not liable for the priest's conduct under the First Amendment separation of church and state.

Religious entities must be held accountable for their actions "even if that conduct is carried out as part of the Church's religious practices," the appellate ruling said.

Litwack said the decision was the first time New York had recognized the right to sue entities within the Church for negligently retaining or supervising bad priests.

Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese, declined to comment, saying he did not have all the details of the case.


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