BBC, Feb. 19, 2003
By Emma Simpson, BBC New York correspondent
A judge in the United States has refused to dismiss hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits involving Boston’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
Church officials had argued that all the cases should be thrown out on the grounds that the US constitution barred the court from interfering with church operations and policies.
The Boston Archdiocese is facing claims from hundreds of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, which could cost some $80m to settle.
For more than a year now the Archdiocese has been engulfed in a sex abuse crisis, with claims that senior clergy repeatedly sheltered priests who had been accused of sex abuse.
When Church officials filed the legal action, they stressed that they were not trying to avoid responsibility for compensating the alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Dodging the issue
The latest legal motion, they said, was to satisfy demands from its insurers that the Church had done everything possible to defend itself against the lawsuits.
But the move was also seen by critics as a last minute attempt to prevent the release of yet more potentially explosive church files on priests accused of sexual misconduct.
The Archdiocese had asked the judge to bar public access to the documents until the ruling on the constitutional question was made.
It argued that the First Amendment, separating church and state, barred civil courts from getting involved in the church’s supervision of priests.
But the judge disagreed.
One lawyer, representing nearly 300 alleged victims, welcomed the decision saying it showed that the church was not above and beyond the law.