Suit Would Give Court Undue Control, Church Says

By Mary McLachlin
Palm Beach Post [W. Palm Beach FL]
October 11, 2003

WEST PALM BEACH -- Forcing the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami to honor an agreement with a sex-abuse victim would involve the courts in religious matters and violate the constitutional separation between church and state, the archdiocese argued Friday.

"Judicial enforcement would require the court to supervise the selection and discipline of clergy and otherwise oversee the affairs of the Archdiocese of Miami," said Miami attorney James Sanborn, who represents Archbishop John Favalora. "The church has the right to operate without interference from the state."

Sanborn said a lawsuit by the victim, Kevin Sidaway of Lake Worth, should be dismissed for several reasons, including that it would "excessively entangle" the court in the affairs of the archdiocese, in violation of the First Amendment.

Circuit Judge Art Wroble dismissed the suit on two technical points but told Sidaway he could amend and refile it. Wroble said he wouldn't go into the constitutional issue and ordered the two sides to try to reconcile their differences through mediation.

Sidaway's attorney, Sheldon Stevens of Rockledge, was gloomy about the prospect of mediation.

"We already did this once," Stevens said. "Going through mediation again is not hopeful."

Sidaway, 47, was one of several boys abused by the Rev. Rocco D'Angelo at St. Mark Catholic Church in Boynton Beach in the 1960s.

Church officials told the families D'Angelo would not be allowed contact with children again but sent him to Tampa, where at least four more men have said he molested them.

Sidaway sued in 1996 and settled in 1998 for an undisclosed amount of money plus special provisions that he said were needed to protect children from abusive priests.

He went back to court last year, after sex scandals erupted throughout the Catholic Church and Bishop Anthony O'Connell left the Diocese of Palm Beach in disgrace over his own past sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit is against Favalora and the Rev. James Murtagh, who was interim administrator of the Diocese of Palm Beach when it was filed in June 2002. The diocese says that only Favalora agreed to the special provisions and that the diocese isn't bound by them -- a point disputed by Sidaway.

The suit says neither one lived up to the settlement, in which officials promised to search the records of all active priests for any reports of sexual, drug or alcohol abuse; require a priest accused of such misconduct to be tested by a non-church psychologist; appoint a lay panel to investigate complaints; and bar minors from being in the bedrooms, rectory or residences of priests, or having unchaperoned overnight visits or trips with priests.

"If they had honored the agreement, Bishop O'Connell would never have stepped foot in the Palm Beach Diocese," Sidaway said Friday, "because an appropriate background check would have shown that there were allegations against him in Tennessee, and the lawyers there knew about them.

"They lied to me three decades ago, and when I sued, they lied to me again," he said. "So how can I trust them?"


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