Judge Dismisses Suit against Man's Parents

By Mike DuPre'
Janesville Gazette [Wisconsin]
August 4, 2005

The defamation lawsuit filed by a Catholic priest against the parents of a young man who accused the priest of sexual abuse was dismissed early Wednesday afternoon.

However, the civil trial against the young man continued and was to resume this morning.

Judge John Roethe granted defense attorney John Casey's motion for a directed verdict of dismissal. Roethe found that the parents had acted within the conditional privileges allowed by the law to make defamatory statements.

In his suit, the Rev. Gerald Vosen alleged that the 26-year-old Milwaukee man and his parents, who are Janesville residents, made false and defamatory statements to the Diocese of Madison that Vosen had sexually assaulted the man when he was a student at St. John Vianney School and Vosen was pastor of the parish.

After Vosen's attorney, Patrick McDonald of Janesville, rested his case, Roethe ruled in the parents' favor.

Roethe explained that people are allowed to make defamatory statements under certain conditions, such as reporting sexual abuse, because in those circumstances the statements could be made for some higher purpose, such as protecting society.

"Reporting sexual abuse has got to be privileged in our society," the judge said.

For instance, if someone honestly thought a neighbor was abusing his children, that person could report his or her suspicions even though they surely would damage the neighbor's standing in the community and might be untrue.

The parents took their son's word and reported the abuse only to the Diocese of Madison without any other motive, such as harming Vosen or seeking a monetary award, Roethe found.

Therefore, they had and did not abuse the privilege to make a defamatory statement, he ruled.

But Roethe allowed the suit to go forward against the young man because although he has the same conditional privilege, whether he abused it is a central issue in the trial.

Vosen is charging that the young man lied, which would have abused his conditional privilege.

It's the key point in the trial.

"There is ample evidence that the acts did not occur," Roethe said.

Furthermore, a point of contention could be made-and a reasonable jury could infer-that the man made the charges to get money from the Catholic diocese, Roethe said.