It’s the same old story. Priest molests children in his parish. Priest’s boss finds out about the molestation. Rather than turning the priest over to the police so he can be prosecuted for one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, the church hierarchy instead puts the priest into their own private, intra-church counseling while merely telling his parishioners that he is taking a leave of absence.
Upon completion of that counseling, they move the offending priest to another parish where the public has no idea that he has a history of molesting children and they once again put him in a position of authority over children. To no one’s surprise, he molests more children. One of those children grows up and sues the diocese for negligence for their actions and the diocese goes to court and argues that the case should be dismissed because of the free exercise clause of the Constitution.
Read that again. It wasn’t a joke. They actually argued that if the Court rules on the issue they will “will become unconstitutionally entangled in religious doctrine, practice, or church polity” and that it will require the Court to “regulate the manner in which a Catholic bishop selects, assigns, supervises, and disciplines priests and that such regulation violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The word ‘chutzpah’ comes to mind.
Thankfully, a court in Rhode Island has rejected that claim (see full ruling here) and denied the motion to dismiss the case, writing:
The Court rejects Defendants’ argument that such functions should be shielded by the First Amendment because they are performed under the Church’s Code of Canon law. The Hierarchy Defendants cannot avoid the instant litigation on the argument that the alleged acts or omissions constituted obeying and applying scripture, and ministering to the priest. Contrary to Hierarchy Defendant’s contentions, this case can be determined based upon neutral principles of law and will not involve inquiry into church law.
Their argument is sheer madness. They are seriously arguing that the Church be allowed to harbor felons who commit the most destructive of crimes and that no civil court has jurisdiction over their doing so. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: forget civil suits, the bishops who made those decisions should be under arrest for accessory after the fact, conspiracy, harboring and anything else they can find to charge them with.
In any other profession, doing this would be criminal. If a teacher, a doctor or a therapist has knowledge of child abuse and does not report it to the police, they go to jail. Yet because the criminals in this case have an ecclesiastical title, the law does not apply to them. It’s time they did, and we should be demanding it.