Priest's Lawsuit Dashed
Action Is Dismissed on Grounds He Failed to Pursue Claim He Was Unfairly

By Elliot Grossman
Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
July 21, 1997

A sex-addicted priest who sued the Allentown Catholic Diocese for firing him has failed to pursue his lawsuit, causing a Lehigh County judge to dismiss it.

Judge Edward Reibman dismissed the suit June 30 after the lawyer representing the Rev. David A. Soderlund did not reply to the diocese's written motion to dismiss the case. Reibman did not consider the merits of the case because of Soderlund's failure to respond.

"There were no negotiations, no settlement, no talks, no nothing," said lawyer Thomas Traud, representing the diocese. "The order just appeared one day."

It is unclear why Soderlund did not follow through in his lawsuit. He declined to comment, and his lawyer, Glenn McGogney, did not return phone calls.

Soderlund, who lives in suburban Reading, filed his formal complaint in April against the diocese and Bishop Thomas Welsh. He sued for wrongful discharge after being fired in 1989 as director of pastoral care at Pottsville's Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.

He claims the bishop failed to give him due process before suspending him, leaving him without a church job. Soderlund admits being sexually involved with a teen-age boy 17 years ago but said the diocese had already disciplined and counseled him for that.

Between the time he left the hospital and the filing of the suit, the diocese and Soderlund appealed decisions to church authorities in Rome. They also tried to negotiate a resolution of the dispute.

On May 9, the diocese filed legal papers asking Reibman to dismiss the suit on religious freedom grounds. The diocese argued that the First Amendment's religious freedom clause prevents judges from getting involved in suits dealing with religious matters.

Though Soderlund was supposed to respond within 20 days, he had not done so more than 50 days later.

Across the nation, most suits involving religious matters are dismissed because of the First Amendment, according to experts on church-government matters.

Soderlund admits having a sexual addiction to teens, a type of pedophilia. He said he is in a support group for priests who have that problem. But he said he has not had sexual contact with a teen since the 1980 incident.

According to the diocese's legal papers, Welsh concluded that if Soderlund were given another pastor's job, he would be a potential danger to church members.


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