Friars Sue L.A. Archdiocese over Sexual Abuse Case
A Franciscan Order Is Fighting Allegations That a Priest Molested an O.C. Boy in the '70s. It Seeks a Ruling That the Church Is Liable for Any Damages

By William Lobdell
Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles CA]
April 5, 2003

An order of Franciscan friars has sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- a second recent instance of one Roman Catholic institution battling another in court over who is liable for sexual-abuse claims.

The legal action, filed in February in Orange County Superior Court, says the archdiocese was responsible for the behavior of a Franciscan priest who allegedly molested an altar boy at a Mission Viejo church three decades ago, before the church formed a separate diocese for Orange County.

The Indiana-based order -- Province of Our Lady of Consolation Conventual Franciscan Friars -- filed the legal action as a cross-complaint to a lawsuit brought against it in June. That suit was filed by a man who alleged that Bertrand W. Horvath, a member of its religious order, sexually abused him as a child at St. Killian Church.

The Franciscans are asking a judge to order the archdiocese to reimburse them for any costs that result from the suit.

In a similar action, the Diocese of San Bernardino on Tuesday sued the Archdiocese of Boston, charging that Boston officials hid allegations of sexual molestation against former priest Paul Shanley when he was transferred to California in 1990. The legal action is believed to be the first time a U.S. diocese has sued another diocese.

"The two suits are indicative of the fact that the defendants clearly recognize the potential for huge liability and are going to begin to point the finger at one another," said attorney John Manly, who represents Horvath's accuser in the original suit.

Horvath was ordained as a Franciscan friar in 1970 and was assigned by the order to work in the Mission Viejo church under the leadership of the archdiocese. In its complaint, the Franciscan order argues that it is not responsible for the actions of a friar on loan to another Catholic organization.

Church officials said Horvath retired in 2001 after serving 20 years within the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, and moved to Ohio.

Manly said Horvath was forced to step down shortly after his client informed the Amarillo diocese of the molestation allegations.

Horvath could not be reached for comment.

An attorney for the Conventual Franciscan Friars didn't return phone calls.

The attorney for the archdiocese handling the suit was out of the office Friday.

Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and expert on sexual abuse within the church, said dioceses and religious orders over the years have tried to blame each other in depositions and other court documents for the actions of pedophile priests. But this is the first time those disagreements have escalated into lawsuits.

The reason, Sipe said, is that church officials have had to pay out multimillion-dollar settlements and judgments in recent years and now recognize their financial vulnerability for the sexual crimes of priests.

"The real issue is the money," said Sipe, who works for a number of plaintiff's attorneys, including Manly. "They're trying to cut their losses."

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