NYTimes.com Article: Boston Archdiocese Is Sued by San Bernardino Diocese
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Chickens come home to roost; or: when it comes to paying the bills, it's everybody for himself...
Boston Archdiocese Is Sued by San Bernardino Diocese
April 3, 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
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
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.
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