New York Times, Apr. 2, 2003
By CALVIN SIMS
LOS ANGELES, April 2 — Underscoring the financial toll of the sexual abuse scandal on the Roman Catholic Church, a California diocese has sued the Archdiocese of Boston for damages resulting from its failure to disclose a priest’s history of sexual molestation.
In a lawsuit filed on Monday, the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., a populous jurisdiction just east of Los Angeles, said Boston church officials gave assurances that the priest, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, was in good standing, despite a record of sexual abuse when he transferred from Boston in 1990.
The suit, which is believed to be the first in which one United States diocese has sued another, accuses the Boston Archdiocese of engaging in “misrepresentations and suppression of information” as well as “active misconduct and negligence” in concealing Father Shanley’s background.
At least 30 people, mainly from Boston, have accused Father Shanley of sexually abusing them while they were young, in incidents dating to 1967. A lawsuit filed in January accused Father Shanley of having sex with a 17-year-old boy in San Bernardino in 1990 and of persuading the boy to have sex with other men.
Bill Lemann, a lawyer for the San Bernardino Diocese, said the diocese was forced to take legal action to protect itself financially. Under the law, a party named in a lawsuit that wants to shift the legal burden to a responsible third party must file an action known as a cross-complaint against that party, Mr. Lemann said.
In the cross-complaint, Catholic officials in San Bernardino argued that the Boston Archdiocese should be responsible for potential damages stemming from the suit, which was filed by Kevin English, 30, and seeks an undisclosed sum from both dioceses. The diocese’s filing of the cross-complaint was first reported today by The Los Angeles Times and by local television stations.
“This action is about determining responsibility, not casting blame,” the Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, said in a statement. “We have no responsibility in the actions that caused the lawsuit so we don’t believe our parishioners should have to bear its financial burden.”
Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Boston, declined to comment, saying lawyers had not reviewed the suit.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Washington, said the governing national body would have no comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, which a spokesman characterized as “a rare occurrence.” He said that no one in the church hierarchy was aware of any previous instance in which one diocese sued another but that the suit itself was not a doctrinal matter.
San Bernardino Diocese officials said they would not have allowed Father Shanley to say Mass in county parishes had they known of his history of misconduct in Boston. They said he was removed from the diocese in 1993 when his past behavior was discovered.
The San Bernardino Diocese has 1.1 million Catholics and is the nation’s 12th largest. It has 110 churches, 97 parishes and 13 missions in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Officials described the diocese as one of the country’s poorest and said it led a “paycheck to paycheck” existence with just enough money to provide for its parishioners.
“Paying an enormous settlement would have a devastating impact on us, forcing us to cut social programs, close schools, and plans to build new churches,” Father Lincoln, the diocese spokesman, said.
The diocese has a little more than $1 million in reserves and cannot afford to pay a multimillion-dollar damage award that could result from the lawsuit, he said.
San Bernardino church officials said in a statement that taking legal action against another diocese was consistent with Catholic theology of the church being “one body” in Christ. “We have forgiven Boston for his mistake, but we are allowing it to take responsibility for the mistake through this action,” they said.
In a letter, dated Jan. 16, 1990, to the San Bernardino Diocese, the Rev. Robert J. Banks, vicar for administration for the Boston Archdiocese, said that Father Shanley was “a priest in good standing” and that “I can assure you that Father Shanley has no problem that would be of concern to your diocese.”
In the letter, which was released by San Bernardino church officials, Father Banks noted that Father Shanley had recently been granted a one-year medical leave and that he planned to live in Palm Springs, Calif.
A report in The New York Times last year revealed that Father Shanley had in fact settled in Palm Springs but, unknown to his superiors in Boston, he was receiving his support and medical checks at the Cabana Club Resort, which caters to gays. Father Shanley became an owner of the hotel, along with the Rev. John J. White, another Boston priest who was also on sick leave and receiving money from the Boston Archdiocese.