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Spotlight Report

Church presses case to dismiss suits

Appeals Court is asked to intervene

By Wendy Davis, Globe Correspondent, 3/21/2003

Invoking the constitutional separation of church and state, the Archdiocese of Boston is appealing a Superior Court judge's refusal to dismiss lawsuits filed by alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The Archdiocese yesterday asked an Appeals Court judge to intervene in the case before a jury hears it. The motion filed with Appeals Court Justice Scott Kafker says that civil courts, because of the First Amendment, should not get involved in issues of whether church leaders were negligent in supervising and assigning priests.

Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney rejected the same argument in a pretrial motion last month, ruling that accepting the church's argument would be akin to granting the church blanket immunity from civil lawsuits. Sweeney did, however, dismiss claims that the church was negligent for allowing alleged pedophiles to become priests and for failing to defrock allegedly abusive priests.

About 500 plaintiffs have sued the church and its leaders, arguing that the church should not have assigned known or suspected child abusers to new parishes without warning the parishioners.

Attorney Carmen Durso, who represents some of the alleged victims, said the church's lengthy motion seemed contrary to the spirit of the 90-day ''time-out'' in litigation, agreed to last month. ''We're standing down from doing a bunch of stuff and this makes `War and Peace' look like it was written in a weekend,'' he said.

Durso also questioned whether it was consistent for church leaders to express a desire to settle the cases while at the same time seeking dismissal of the cases.

Church spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said the church is continuing to negotiate with alleged victims and still hopes for a resolution. ''Our first desire is to settle these cases,'' said Morrissey. ''But the attorneys for the church have a duty to exercise all available defenses.''

This story ran on page B6 of the Boston Globe on 3/21/2003.
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