Woman Hopes Supreme Court Allows Her to Sue Catholic Church
By Dan Horn
June 5, 2007
A Cincinnati woman will ask the Ohio Supreme Court today for the right to sue the Catholic Church, which she claims pressured her to put her baby up for adoption to protect the priest who got her pregnant.
The woman, who has not been identified, accuses the Archdiocese of Cincinnati of fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She says the priest, Norman Heil, had sex with her several times in 1965 when she was a 16-year-old student at Regina High School in Norwood.
Church officials say the lawsuit should be dismissed because the statute of limitations, the deadline for filing lawsuits, passed decades ago.
But the woman's lawyer said the case should proceed because church officials broke the law 42 years ago when they coerced her into giving up the child and any potential claims against the church.
"She figuratively had a gun up to her head," said her lawyer, Marc Mezibov. "And the gun was their threats of eternal damnation."
He said the priest and a nun told the pregnant teen that the church would cast her out and her child would not be baptized if she did not give up her baby.
Mezibov said church officials succeeded in pressuring the girl because of her "reliance on, vulnerability to and belief in Catholic doctrine."
An appeals court in Cincinnati concluded the lawsuit should be allowed to continue, but the archdiocese appealed.
The church last year won a key Supreme Court case that resulted in the dismissal of dozens of lawsuits accusing priests of abuse. In that case, the justices ruled the cases were filed too long after the statute of limitations.
The archdiocese's lawyer, Mark VanderLaan, said the same should be true in this case. "It is not markedly different," he said.
But Mezibov said the case is different because the church acted illegally to block the woman from taking action before the statute of limitations had passed.
Her lawsuit claims Heil, who left the priesthood in 1966 and died in 1988, sometimes heard the girl's confession to absolve her of the sin of having sex with him. Later, when she was pregnant, she claims Heil and others pressured her to give up the baby.
The lawsuit also claims a nun told the teen in a letter that the pregnancy was her fault and she should "suffer in silence."
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this morning and will decide the case later this year.
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