Diocese Wants Boston to Pay
San Bernardino Church Officials Assert East Coast Archdiocese Is Liable in Sex Abuse Case

By Joanna Corman
Los Angeles Times [San Bernardino CA]
Downloaded April 2, 2003

SAN BERNARDINO -- The Diocese of San Bernardino wants a judge to make the Archdiocese of Boston liable for any costs related to a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against it earlier this year.

Lawyers said the San Bernardino diocese's cross-complaint against the East Coast diocese, filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court on Tuesday, may be the first of its kind.

Kevin English filed a lawsuit against the dioceses of Boston and San Bernardino earlier this year alleging that Father Paul Shanley, a Boston priest transferred to Southern California on a medical leave of absence in 1990, sexually abused the then 17-year-old beginning that year.

Father Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, said the diocese is not responsible for Shanley's alleged misconduct. Shanley was recommended by the Boston diocese as a priest in good standing even though he openly advocated relationships between men and boys, an attorney representing English said. Shanley also signed an affidavit affirming that he had never been accused or convicted of crimes of a sexual nature.

"We have no responsibility at all in this action," Lincoln said. "The financial burden has to be carried against Boston."

Shanley is one of the priests at the center of the priest sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church. He was arrested in May 2002 and indicted the following month in Massachusetts on charges of child rape and assault for allegedly abusing four boys at a parish in suburban Boston from 1979 to 1989. He was released from jail in December after posting bail.

The San Bernardino diocese is asking that Boston pay its legal fees and any judgment issued against it. A judge would rule on the matter after it is decided whether any of the defendants are liable in English's lawsuit.

"Boston recognizes its mistake but our diocese should not have to pay for this mistake," Lincoln said.

A multimillion-dollar judgment against the Diocese of San Bernardino would be "devastating," Lincoln said. It is a poor diocese without debt that lives "paycheck to paycheck." Insurance would cover only part of a large judgment, Lincoln said. The rest would come from the diocesan budget, much of which comes from parishioners' donations.

"This lawsuit could push us to financial insolvency," Lincoln said.

Officials from the San Bernardino diocese, which spans Riverside and San Bernardino counties and includes more than 1 million Catholics, spoke with representatives from Boston's archdiocese last week about the legal action, said Will Lemann, attorney for the Diocese of San Bernardino.

"They're not thrilled but they understand it," Lemann said.

Boston officials declined to comment Tuesday.

"Our attorneys have not been notified of the filing, therefore, they have not been able to review it. We can't make any comment on it," said Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Boston.

To be liable, a diocese would have to have prior knowledge of Shanley's alleged behavior, Lemann said. The diocese had no information about accusations of sexual abuse against Shanley until October 1993 when it fired him.

But attorneys representing English say San Bernardino officials should have probed deeper before hiring Shanley.

"They could have asked to see his file," said William Light, a Riverside attorney representing English.

The Diocese of San Bernardino should take some of the blame in part because it was a joint partner in employing Shanley, Light said.

Another attorney representing English said that Shanley's behavior, including accusations that he openly advocated relationships between men and boys, was well-known.

"I certainly understand their claim that Boston has responsibility and I certainly agree," said Carmen Durso, a Boston attorney also representing English. "But I don't think it's that simple. You just don't turn your back and say whatever happens is someone else's fault."

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.