|Judge Dismisses Whistleblower's Lawsuit against Archdiocese of Louisville
By Peter Smith
May 16, 2011
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a former St. Therese Church bookkeeper who alleged she was fired by the Archdiocese of Louisville for objecting to the presence of an accused sex abuser residing on parish property.
Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry, in a ruling filed Monday, accepted the archdiocese's argument that the court could not review the claim because of the constitutional bar on government interfering with how religious organizations discipline members — in this case, an allegedly abusive priest.
Perry also said that Margie Weiter, the former employee who filed the lawsuit along with her husband, Gary Weiter Sr., had no legal grounds for her claims that she was wrongfully fired and that the priest who formerly supervised her trespassed on her property.
The Weiters sued in January, alleging she was wrongfully terminated from her job at the Germantown parish in May 2010 in retaliation for complaining about the presence of the Rev. James Schook, who had been subject to an abuse accusation that the archdiocese later concluded was valid. The lawsuit also named as defendants Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz; the Rev. Anthony Olges, pastor of St. Therese; and Schook.
The Weiters later named another defendant, former priest Bruce Ewing, a volunteer on a parish council who they alleged had a role in upholding Margie Weiter's dismissal.
Ewing — who is serving probation for the third-degree rape of a teenager when he was a priest in the 1970s — resigned in February after the archdiocese acknowledged his parish role violated its policy forbidding sex offenders from volunteering.
Perry said he could not review either Schook's or Ewing's status at St. Therese.
"The plaintiff's claims … all stem from their disagreement with how the Archdiocese of Louisville has dealt with priests who have either been convicted of, or accused of sexual misconduct," he wrote. "… State civil courts do not have authority to decide these disputes."
The Weiters' lawyer, Mikell Grafton, criticized the decision.
"I am deeply saddened that the archdiocese has clothed itself in the First Amendment," she said in a statement. "Margie Weiter stood up to protect vulnerable children and not only was humiliated, but also the archdiocese decided she was not even fit to work at her job."
Grafton said she would consult with the Weiters about whether to appeal.
Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, said the ruling was correct. He said Weiter's job was eliminated strictly due to budget cuts and the archdiocese helped her get a part-time job at another parish.
Reynolds also said the archdiocese followed its own policy during its investigation of Schook.
"He was removed from all ministry; he was told he could do no ministry and not function as a priest," Reynolds said. He said the archdiocese informed police — who also have been investigating claims against Schook — and St. Therese staff of Schook's presence — and that Shook was removed from St. Therese two months before Weiter's dismissal after the diocese concluded the allegations against him were valid.
Perry also dismissed Margie Weiter's claim that she was fired for following state laws requiring the reporting of child abuse because the case didn't involve child abuse but rather Schook's residence at St. Therese.
Perry also dismissed the claim that Olges trespassed at the Weiters' residence by hand-delivering a letter removing them as bingo volunteers at St. Therese. Perry said the law allows anyone to knock on a resident's front door unless expressly forbidden.
Gary Weiter was among 243 plaintiffs who settled with the archdiocese in 2003 for $25.7 million over claims of sexual abuse by clergy and others associated with the church.
Individual payouts were not disclosed.
Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.
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