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Raping altar boys not part of Church's charitable mission, so abuse lawsuit can continue, court rules

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a western-Massachusetts man who says he was raped repeatedly in the 1960s by various Catholic Church clergy, including the then bishop of Springfield, can make his case to a jury that he is owed damages not only for that but for the way the church handled his case after he came forward in 2014.

Current Springfield Bishop William Byrne, previous Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, and other church officials had asked for the suit, by a man identified only as John Doe, to be dismissed. Their argument was based in part on a legal doctrine that barred suits against charitable organizations for actions carried out by their officials or employees as part of their charitable mission. The state legislature explicitly eliminated this "charitable immunity" in 1971, but the diocese said that it still applied in this case because it was in place during the time of the repeated rapes.

Nope, the court said:

The abuse allegedly carried out by [then Bishop Christopher] Weldon and other church leaders was not, and could not be, related in any way to a charitable mission.

The court's summary of the case includes a detailed description of one alleged rape in which the man, then a boy, said he gripped onto a door frame to keep Weldon from bringing him into a room with a bed, but that Weldon proved too strong and threw him on a bed - and then ordered other altar boys and priests to flip him on his stomach and pin him there while "Weldon and others 'brutally raped' him."

The court also rejected Byrne's request that it dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds, that the suit would be an unnecessary intrusion on the inner workings of the church, in particular its own investigations into the man's claims, which alternately agreed something might have happened or that nothing happened.

This, however, was more of a procedural matter, because the court was asking the state's highest court to overturn a lower-court judge's decision to allow the case to proceed and the court generally frowns on such "interlocutory" appeals without really good reason, such as that even if a jury agreed with the church, it would suffer irreparable harm from everything up to that point.

In this case, the court said the issue of church autonomy under the First Amendment could adequately be dealt with at trial or, if a jury agrees with Doe, in an appeal.

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PDF icon Complete ruling103.07 KB


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the on-going despicable actions of the Catholic church regarding these most disgusting violations still manage to stun me. I fear no lessons have been learned. The primary lesson for me being deal with these crimes head-on in a transparent and honest manner. There is no other way to make sure this horrible history does not repeat. And it is the least we owe to the victims. Stop hiding behind lawyers!

Thank you for reporting on this.

Voting closed 21

It is absolutely unconscionable the church is still avoiding culpability for this. That makes me think it never really ended.

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It’s sad that it’s taken over 50 years for this victim to have his day in court.

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If you read the court summary, you'll see he had suppressed his memory until 2013 or so.

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but even the Church has a right to investigate and evaluate claims.

Voting closed 2