Church Abuse Lawsuits to Be Heard in State Court

Associated Press, carried in CBS 4 [Denver CO]
February 5, 2006

(AP) DENVER A state court, not a federal court, should hear lawsuits filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver alleging sexual abuse by clergy, a federal judge has ruled, The Denver Post reported.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock on Friday rejected the archdiocese's attempts to move the lawsuits from state court, where they were filed.

The lawsuits were filed by men alleging they were abused by former priest Harold Robert White and the Rev. Leonard Abercrombie when the plaintiffs were children. They allege church officials failed to shield them from abuse though they knew of abuse allegations against the priests.

White told CBS4 in August that the allegations contained "half truths." Abercrombie died in 1994. The archdiocese has said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Church officials had argued that a federal court should consider the lawsuits because they deal with issues central to First Amendment clauses barring government establishment of religion and protecting free exercise of religion.

Charles Goldberg, the archdiocese's general counsel, argued that the lawsuits delve into church-parishioner and church-minister relationships and church governance. For instance, some lawsuits allege that by calling priests "Father," the church gives clergy a way to exert undue influence over children, Goldberg said.

Babcock rejected the argument and told attorneys for both sides they were "shopping" for the venue where they thought they had the best chance of winning. In recent rulings, federal courts have been more favorable to the church.

Among questions still to be answered are whether the alleged abuse happened so long ago that the statute of limitations has passed.

Lawyers for the alleged victims were expected to proceed in the case by requesting priests' personnel files and parish records, along with depositions from archdiocesan officials.


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