Woman's Suit against Aviston Priest Thrown out

By Jennifer A. Bowen
Belleville News-Democrat
June 12, 2002

A lawsuit a New Baden woman filed in February alleging a Catholic priest fondled her during counseling sessions was dismissed by a St. Clair County judge and cannot be filed again.

Judy Hangsleben had accused the Rev. Daniel L. Friedman of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Aviston of sexual battery and claimed he fondled her breasts at least twice during counseling sessions. She also accused the priest of improper counseling because he offered her psychotherapy and is not "licensed, trained or qualified" to provide such counseling.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville also was named in the lawsuit, and Hangsleben sought more than $100,000 in damages from both Friedman and the diocese.

"I have no comment to make whatsoever," Hangsleben said about the dismissal of her lawsuit, with prejudice, by St. Clair County Chief Judge Stephen Kernan.

Dismissed with prejudice means that Hangsleben, who acted as her own attorney with legal advice from a lawyer, cannot refile her lawsuit.

Hangsleben filed a motion to dismiss her lawsuit on May 2 after attorneys for Friedman and the diocese filed motions requesting the lawsuit be dismissed.

In their motions, the diocese and Friedman stated that the statute of limitations had expired for Hangsleben's accusations of sexual battery by Friedman. The statute of limitations in Illinois on a personal injury claim is two years. Hangsleben alleged that Friedman fondled her on two occasions: Jan. 4, 2000, and Feb. 1, 2000. She filed her lawsuit in the St. Clair County Circuit Court on Feb. 5, 2002.

Hangsleben's claim of "improper counseling" should have been referred to as "clergy malpractice," the motion to dismiss stated. The Illinois court system has refused to recognize "clergy malpractice" because it would require courts to investigate and evaluate religious tenets and doctrines that would be a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religious beliefs.

"The counseling provided by Father Friedman to (Hangsleben) is specifically excluded under the Illinois Sexual Exploitation in Psychotherapy Act," the motion to dismiss filed by Friedman stated. "The act excludes claims relating to psychotherapy 'of a spiritual or religious nature.'"


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