Legal Defense

When sued, how should the church behave?


How can the Catholic Church justify defending itself against lawsuits brought by those who claim to be the victims of sexual abuse by priests? Should not the church, in all honesty and humility, and in the spirit of penitence, work things out quietly with the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and pay out the cash damages they demand? Isn’t legal resistance-and sometimes vigorous resistance-simply a perpetuation of the pattern of cover-ups that helped create the problem? Has not the church, by choosing to litigate many of the claims against it, reduced itself to the level of those corporate malefactors who use their deep pockets to finance relentless legal defenses against the victims of their environmental crimes, defective products, or financial fraud? Many critics think that the answers to those questions are obvious. A forceful legal defense by dioceses, archdioceses, and the Holy See itself against claims of legal responsibility, it is argued, is flatly inconsistent with the church’s claims of moral authority. The church is condemned as hypocritical and irresponsible for relying on "technicalities" such as statutes of limitations-which bar claims brought too long after the offending act-to cause claims to be dismissed. A defense lawyer’s attempt to undermine the credibility of the plaintiff is likely to be described as a "scorched earth" tactic or, even worse, blaming the victim. Even the mere attempt to negotiate the amount...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.