Chaminade clergy abuse case challenges First Amendment protection for church officials accused of negligence

St. Louis Post Dispatch

May 6, 2020

By Nassim Benchaabane

The Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a sex abuse case that asks the court to break with a previous ruling protecting church officials from negligent supervision claims because courts deciding such claims could violate separation of church and state.

The lawsuit before the state’s top court claims now-deceased Marianist Brother John Woulfe sexually abused a Chaminade College Preparatory School student in 1971 while working as a guidance counselor at the school. The suit, first filed in 2015 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, alleges Marianist and Chaminade officials knew of the abuse and failed to stop it and that Woulfe previously had sexually assaulted at least one other boy at Chaminade.

Information in Woulfe’s file, the suit says, contained coded language indicating the Marianist Province knew Woulfe had abused minors before transferring him to Chaminade and also while he worked there, and that other students in the early 1970s reported Woulfe had sexually abused them.

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