Court Ruling Backs Cardinal / Deposition in Former Priest's Sex Case Called Unnecessary

By William Murphy
October 12, 1996

A Manhattan judge has ruled that Cardinal John O'Connor does not have to give a deposition in a Texas civil case involving allegations that a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused youngsters.

State Supreme Court Justice David Saxe said in a ruling that became public yesterday that he agreed with O'Connor's argument that the plaintiffs in the Texas suit were trying to get publicity for their case by seeking to take a deposition from the well-known cardinal.

The unidentified plaintiffs in the Texas case argued that O'Connor had "substantial knowledge" about the circumstances under which a priest in the Diocese of Dallas was named a military chaplain in 1982 despite what they say is a history as a sexual abuser.

O'Connor, a former Navy chaplain, was a top official of the Military Vicariate at the time and would have known about the circumstances of the appointment, the plaintiffs argued.

The Rev. Robert Peebles, who was removed as a priest in 1989, was forced out of the military in 1984 after a youngster accused him of trying to sexually abuse him.

The Texas lawsuit alleges that the church knew of his conduct and nonetheless put him in positions where he would have contact with other youngsters.

The Diocese of Dallas has admitted that it paid $22,000 toward Peebles' tuition at Tulane University Law School after he was forced from the priesthood, and gave him $800 a month during his first two years at the school.

Peebles has admitted in court paper in Dallas that he sexually abused at least seven boys while a priest, and that at least two job re-assignments came after his church superiors learned of the allegations.

The court in Dallas granted the plaintiffs the right to take a deposition from O'Connor, who then moved in court here to quash the subpoenas for his testimony.

"The prominent position that Cardinal O'Connor holds in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church of the United States tends to lend credence to his assertion that his deposition is sought not to obtain necessary information as to events and circumstances at issue in the Texas actions, but for the purpose of promotion, publicity, or strategic value," Saxe said in his decision.

The judge said there was no evidence that the Texas plaintiffs could not get the information they sought from other officials of the Military Vicariate.

"The conclusion is inescapable that the deposition of Cardinal O'Connor is improper and constitutes unnecessary harassment," Saxe ruled.


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