Orlando Diocese Wants out of Lawsuit
Lawyers Claim the Church Should Not Be Held Responsible for the Actions of Former Priest Thomas Pagni

By Debbie Salamone
Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
April 7, 1995

Lawyers for the Orlando Catholic Diocese told a judge Thursday the church shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of a former priest accused of molesting a teen-ager.

The lawyers asked Brevard County Judge Preston Silvernail to throw out portions of a lawsuit filed in February claiming diocese officials forced Thomas Pagni out of the priesthood because he was a pedophile, and then helped him become a Brevard County mental health counselor.

Pagni, 45, also has been charged with two counts of engaging in sexual activity with a minor and two counts of engaging in lewdness, all stemming from his activities as a counselor. Pagni remains free on $20,000 bail.

A 17-year-old boy who says he became one of Pagni's clients told detectives investigating criminal allegations that Pagni molested him from June to October 1992.

In arguing the lawsuit, Orlando lawyer Robert Pleus said there is no evidence the church helped cause the alleged attack on the teen.

The boy's Merritt Island attorney, Sheldon Stevens, argued the church shares blame because it paved the way for Pagni to continue harming young boys.

He said the church knew Pagni had molested boys since 1973 as a seminary student through 1986 after he was a priest. Pagni was moved to different parishes when allegations surfaced and finally forced out when parishioners and another priest demanded he be removed, Stevens said in court. He said the church then paid for all of

Pagni's expenses to attend college, where he received training to become a counselor.

Silvernail gave attorneys several weeks to submit case law and other documents before he rules.

The church's attempts to have the lawsuit thrown out are similar to ones being made in an Orlando lawsuit that also names the diocese. That lawsuit includes allegations that former Chancellor Arthur Bendixen molested an altar boy for 12 years.

In that suit, Orange Circuit Judge Rom Powell did not allow attorneys to argue their positions in court and has said he will make his ruling based on written submissions.

Based on Powell's decision, church officials tried to halt oral arguments in Brevard County, saying Stevens would make "scandalous" statements that could impact the public's perception of the proceedings. Silvernail, however, allowed the arguments.


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