Insurer Fights Local Diocese on Covering Alleged Sex Abuse

By Mary McLachlin and Joel Engelhardt
Palm Beach Post [Florida]
January 16, 2003

West Palm Beach - Does a home insurance policy cover sexual misconduct by a priest?

Not the one issued to the Rev. Francis Maloney, a retired Palm Beach Diocese priest accused of trying to seduce a choirboy, says Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

Both the priest and the choirboy's mother, whose threatened multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Maloney and the diocese is in settlement negotiations, say the insurance company should have to pay, under a $300,000 personal liability section in the policy on Maloney's Port St. Lucie house where the alleged sexual activity took place.

Metropolitan filed a petition in Palm Beach County Circuit Court Wednesday, asking for a decree that it doesn't have to defend Maloney or pay anything toward a judgment or settlement. It cited clauses in the policy excluding "intentional act(s) including sexual or physical abuse" and any claims connected to a person's business, profession or occupation.

The company's petition included a copy of the threatened lawsuit, which West Palm Beach attorney Michael Burman said he plans to file next week on behalf of the 17-year-old boy and his mother. Metropolitan obtained the suit during a Jan. 8 mediation session aimed at avoiding legal action, but the talks failed, Burman said.

"We attempted to resolve the matter with the church through pre-suit mediation. They were not reasonable with us and we didn't settle," he said. "So I'll do it the hard way."

Mediation also is scheduled next week in another proposed suit, by two brothers who allege they were molested as middle-school students in the late 1980s by former priest Matthew Fitzgerald, Burman said.

Diocesan spokesman Sam Barbaro said he wasn't aware of the insurance company's petition. The diocese does not comment on anything in litigation.

Burman said that, during mediation, he presented the proposed suit, psychiatric reports of the boy and highlights of multimillion-dollar jury awards stemming from similar lawsuits nationwide.

Another insurance company, Gallagher Bassett Services, represents the Palm Beach Diocese on matters of sexual abuse, Burman said. He said his client is seeking millions of dollars in damages, but declined to say how many millions.

This is the first public indication that the diocese is in negotiations over threatened legal actions that could result in millions of dollars in judgments or settlements. The Archdiocese of Boston is considering filing for bankruptcy protection in the face of sexual abuse claims by more than 450 complainants.

Burman's complaint illustrates his blueprint for putting the Catholic Church and the Palm Beach Diocese on trial for failure to act on repeated instances of sexual abuse dating back decades. It features headings such as "The church's conspiracy of silence," and "The pope speaks on the problem, but little changes."

It provides a litany of problems that have plagued the Palm Beach Diocese and its leadership, including the removal of the past two bishops, Anthony O'Connell and J. Keith Symons, over decades-old sexual abuse allegations. It lists allegations against 13 priests, including the Rev. Frank Flynn, who was removed after charges of womanizing; Rocco D'Angelo, who was forced into retirement after numerous sexual abuse charges; and Fitzgerald, who was forcibly retired and finally stripped of his priestly credentials after being moved from parish to parish.

The complaint says the Port St. Lucie boy had sung in the choir at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Port St. Lucie, where Maloney, 71, was active as a volunteer priest after being forced into retirement and ordered to undergo counseling for a sexual relationship with a man.

The teen, whom Maloney hired to do house and secretarial work, told police the priest walked around his home naked and had a sexually explicit letter from another priest, the Rev. Donald Whipple, offering advice on how to seduce him. He also said he found Maloney naked in bed with another man.

When he complained to his priest at St. Elizabeth, he was told that only the Rev. James Murtagh, then interim administrator of the diocese, could do anything about Maloney, according to the complaint. A meeting with Murtagh and a diocesan lawyer, to which the boy's parents were not invited, was "confrontational, unproductive and abusive," the complaint alleges.

It seeks triple damages, alleging that the actions of the priests, the church, the diocese, its three former bishops, Murtagh and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops amount to a "pattern of criminal activity" involving "decades-long facilitation and coverup of sexual crimes against minors and solicitation of charitable contributions under false pretenses."


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