Judge Rejects Archdiocese Request to Dismiss Lawsuits

Associated Press, carried in Boston Herald
February 19, 2003

A judge on Wednesday rejected a request by the Boston archdiocese to dismiss more than 400 clergy sex abuse lawsuits based on the church's contention that the First Amendment bars courts from interfering with church operations and policies.Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney's ruling allows the lawsuits alleging the archdiocese ignored allegations of clergy abuse to go forward.

Church officials argued in court last month that the separation of church and state bars civil courts from getting involved in how church officials supervise priests.

Attorneys from both sides have said they continue to hope the lawsuits can be settled out of court.

The scandal has rocked the archdiocese for the past year, leading in mid-December to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop. Law was appointed in 1984 as the leader of the nation's fourth-largest diocese.

The archdiocese has said its legal challenge on First Amendment grounds was required to satisfy its insurance carriers that it had done everything possible to defend itself against the lawsuits. Church officials hope that at least a portion of any settlement costs, estimated at millions of dollars, will be covered by insurance.

Lawyers for alleged victims said church officials were attempting to hide behind canon law to avoid being held responsible in court. They argued that the separation of church and state does not protect the conduct of church supervisors or priests.

"This recognizes that the church - merely by its status as a religious institution - is not above and beyond the law," said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents 270 alleged victims.

The archdiocese did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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