This is the most disturbing legal move – by both Missouri judges and by Missouri Catholic officials – which we’ve ever seen.
Yesterday, the state Supreme Court has turned down an appeal by a St. Louis man in what we consider an unprecedented, bizarre and dangerous move. It lets the St. Louis archdiocese escape responsibility for a known predator priest’s crimes. The reason: because the predator molested victims “off premises” at a private home, not on church grounds.
It obviously will impact all employers, not just churches. It gives them less incentive to take action to protect kids and get rid of child predators.
The decision means that a school whose teacher sexually assaults a girl in the school parking lot can be sued, but school whose teacher sexually assaults a girl in the McDonald’s parking lot, across the street, cannot be, even if school officials know that the teacher will likely assault the girl and even when school officials have the power to prevent the teacher from taking the girl elsewhere.
Missouri kids will be less safe because it will be virtually impossible for many victims of child sex crimes to expose their predators in court. The move also endangers kids because employers will have less incentive to be careful about whom they hire. And finally, this is a reckless move because employers can escape liability for horrendous child sex crimes; even if they let known predators take kids under their control somewhere else and assault them.
Here are the specifics of the case involving this now-deceased priest, Fr. Thomas Cooper, and his church supervisors, the St. Louis Catholic archdiocese.
In March of 2010, St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Donald McMullin found
1. That the victim in this case “has evidence” that the archdiocese knew a priest “had a history of sexual abuse,
2. That leaving (the priest) alone with children was “certain . . . to result in harm to (others),”
3. Disregarded that known risk, and, as a result,
4. (At least one boy) was sexually abused by (the priest.)”
Despite this, Catholic officials have successfully taken advantage of this legal loophole to avoid taking responsibility for this priest’s heinous child sex crimes.
In recent years, Missouri’s Supreme Court has ruled against
-- Halloween restrictions on convicted child molesters,
-- Extended time limits for victims to sue child molesters,
-- Extended time limits for prosecutors to go after child molesters,
-- An expanded sex offender registry for those convicted of such crimes, and
-- The state’s indecent exposure law.
But make no mistake about it – yesterday’s move is the most troubling yet. And the court could never have made this ruling if not for the callous and self-serving Catholic officials who raised this legal claim.
We agree with some of the Supreme Court rulings on child sex crimes mentioned above. Sometimes, ambitious politicians craft ever-draconian restrictions on child predators because it’s politically popular to do so. Sometimes, judges rein in overly aggressive politicians.
But this isn’t one of those cases. This is a disastrous legal move that will clearly put more Missouri kids at risk and help more Missouri predators escape detection.
Essentially, here’s the message that’s being sent to child molesters in Missouri – all you’ve got to do is take the child to your home, a hotel, a cabin, a park, anywhere but your workplace, and you won’t get sued, no matter how often or terrible the abuse or how much your supervisors and co-workers knew or suspected about your crimes, whether in advance or afterwards.
And essentially, here’s the message that’s being sent to employers in Missouri – don’t work hard to weed out or screen out known or likely child molesters, because you probably won’t get sued anyway, since most predators take kids off-site before sexually assaulting them.
Despite this awful setback, let’s hope that every person who sees, suspects or suffers clergy sex crimes and cover ups will continue coming forward so that kids can be protected, predators can be exposed, and healing can begin.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, firstname.lastname@example.org), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)