Diocese Awaits Court Ruling

By Kevin Luperchio
Catholic Free Press [Worcester MA]
Downloaded July 20, 2003

The diocese is awaiting a Superior Court ruling in response to its request that it be removed from a civil lawsuit charging Bishop Rueger with sexual assault of a minor.

In the suit, which was filed last July against the bishop and the diocese, Sime Braio, 52, of Shrewsbury, alleges that Bishop Rueger began sexually molesting him when Mr. Braio was an altar boy at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Worcester and that the diocese knowingly concealed information about the assaults. Bishop Rueger has denied the accusations.

Diocesan lawyer James G. Reardon, Jr. of Reardon & Reardon, a Worcester law firm, argued in a hearing Monday that the diocese should be exempt from the lawsuit under a Massachusetts common law which grants charitable organizations immunity from liability in civil lawsuits.

The law was changed in 1971 but since the alleged assaults against Mr. Braio occurred in the 1960s, it should apply in this case, Mr. Reardon said.

Daniel J. Shea, a Houston-based lawyer representing Mr. Braio, argued that the charitable immunity common law does not apply to cases of claims of direct negligence against the organization in matters of hiring and supervision of employees.

Mr. Reardon also argued that the diocese could not have knowingly concealed information pertaining to the alleged assaults since, by Mr. Braio's own admission, it did not know of the assaults before 2001. In the original complaint, Mr. Braio said he informed the diocese about the alleged assaults in 2001.

"You can't have conspiracy, fraud or deception based on what you don't know," Mr. Reardon said.

Mr. Shea argued that the wider Church has attempted to cover up instances of sexual abuse and that those attempts are relevant in his client's claim.

Mr. Reardon said only information relating to the Diocese of Worcester is pertinent to Mr. Braio's suit.

"The named party (in the suit) is the Diocese of Worcester," he said. "You can't sue the Catholic Church; it's not even an incorporated entity."

Mr. Reardon said the lawsuit against Bishop Rueger as a whole is incomplete.

"It's just wild accusations thrown out there for the purposes of some sort of discovery," he said.

He said the suit is laden with theological arguments that have no bearing in civil court since, under the First Amendment, courts cannot involve itself in matters of religious doctrine.

"What the Church says is not relevant in civil proceedings," Mr. Reardon said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Mr. Shea said, in a telephone interview Tuesday, that it is up to the court to decide what is theological and what isn't.

Judge Leila Kern took the matter under advisement.

Mr. Reardon said a ruling could take anywhere from a week to a month.

If Judge Kern rules in the favor of the diocese, only one charge would remain in the suit, a count of aggravated assault and battery against Bishop Rueger.

The diocese is also awaiting a Superior Court judge's ruling as to whether it can depose a Telegram and Gazette reporter believed to have information regarding the case.

Kathleen A. Shaw, a religion beat reporter with the paper, interviewed Mr. Braio about his allegations against Bishop Rueger in February 2002, according to a July 12 article in the Telegram and Gazette.

In a hearing last November, Mr. Reardon said Ms. Shaw's testimony is pertinent because it could corroborate the testimony of Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, the diocesan official with whom Mr. Braio spoke about his alleged abuse in February 2002.

Msgr. Sullivan, diocesan chancellor, has testified in a deposition that Mr. Braio threatened to go to the press if the diocese did not pay him $10,000. Msgr. Sullivan said he refused the offer on several occasions and also informed the Worcester district attorney's office.

Lawyers for the Telegram and Gazette argued that Ms. Shaw's conversations with Mr. Briao are constitutionally protected as confidential.

Mr. Reardon said Massachusetts has no constitutional provision protecting conversations individuals have with reporters.

In addition, he said, Mr. Braio's story cannot be considered confidential since it has already been reported in the Telegram and Gazette.

Judge C. Brian McDonald has yet to return a ruling in the matter.


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