Federal Court Upholds Dismissal of Sex Abuse Lawsuit against Priest

By Karen Abbott
Rocky Mountain News
June 26, 1999

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a Denver judge's dismissal of a lawsuit accusing a popular Denver priest of sexual assault.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Denver U.S. District Judge Daniel Sparr correctly threw out John Dean Ayon's 1997 lawsuit against the Rev. Marshall Gourley and the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver.

Ayon, a San Diego lawyer, claimed Gourley sexually assaulted him from 1981 to 1984 when Ayon was a teen- ager who sought counseling at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in northwest Denver.

Gourley has denied the accusations. Removed from his pastoral duties at the church, he since has held such jobs as van driver and airport ticket counter clerk. He could not be reached Friday.

''We believe that the court reached the proper result,'' archdiocese spokesman Greg Kail said Friday.

He said it is too soon to determine if Gourley will resume pastoral duties in Denver or elsewhere.

Ayon's lawyer, Joyce Seelen of Denver, could not be reached Friday.

Sparr ruled in July 1998 that Ayon filed the $20 million lawsuit after the legal deadline. Sparr said Ayon, who now is in his mid-30s and is a graduate of Harvard Law School, should have known in the 1980s that he had been injured by any alleged sexual assaults. The deadline for filing such a lawsuit depends on when the victim became aware of any injuries.

Ayon contended that awareness came to him in 1997 after he began treatment with a psychotherapist.

Sparr also ruled that the freedom of religion guarantee in the U.S. Constitution precludes court reviews of how religious organizations hire and supervise members of the clergy.


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