MO- high court won't review "awful" clergy sex ruling
For immediate release: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014
Victims blast justices for not taking abuse case
Missouri's highest court refuses to hear appeal
Employers of child molesters “get off the hook,” SNAP says
Lower court rulings are “a horrific injustice,” group maintains
SNAP: “When priests abuse 'off premises,' Catholic officials exploit technicality”
For now, Missouri's highest court will not consider overturning a lower court ruling that tossed out a clergy sex abuse case against Catholic officials because a priest's alleged crimes did not happen on church property.
Yesterday, Missouri's Supreme Court declined an appeal from attorneys for a Kansas City man who says he was molested by Fr. Michael Tierney, a priest who has faced several civil child sex abuse lawsuits. Last November, a western Missouri appeals court ruled that since Fr. Tierney's purported sexual assaults happened on private property, his employer, the Kansas City Catholic diocese, can't be held responsible for them.
“We are very sad the justices are choosing to not look at this horrific injustice,” said David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We're also sad that KC Bishop Robert Finn has used this technicality to protect a serial predator priest and we fear other employers will be emboldened now to do likewise.”
“For years, at least two Missouri prelates have successfully exploited this legal loophole to conceal clergy sex crimes and cover ups,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP's outreach director. “Now, it's likely they'll continue and other defendants will follow suit, which means that fewer child sex abuse lawsuits will be filed, fewer child molesters will be exposed and fewer children will be protected.”
St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson has used the same argument successfully to get a child sex abuse case against Fr. Thomas T. Cooper tossed out of court. (Ruling: 3/10)
“No one who commits or conceals heinous crimes against children should get “off the hook” just because someone else technically owns the land on which those crimes happened,” said Clohessy. “The "take away" from these rulings is frightening: Elementary teachers should molest students while parked on the street, not in the school lot. Middle school coaches should molest their players after "away" games, not "home" games. And ministers should molest their flocks on retreats held elsewhere, not in the church itself.”
“It's hard to know what's more outrageous: that secular officials permit this loophole or that allegedly religious officials exploit this loophole,” said Dorris. “We desperately hope the Missouri justices will eventually consider this issue and will side with innocent kids and their families and against child molesters and their self-serving enablers.
SNAP predicts that the 1997 Missouri Supreme Court ruling - Gibson v. Brewer - on which part of the lower courts' rulings are based, will not stand. That case also involved the Kansas City diocese and one of its priests.
“Gibson v. Brewer decision makes Missouri one of the three toughest states for child sex abuse victims to expose child molesters through civil suits and deter future cover ups,” said Clohessy. “We're confident it will be overturned. But Catholic officials will keep exploiting this technicality - and others - as long as they possibly can.”
“The only real question is whether our justice system will fix these loopholes quickly or slowly,” he said. “Let's hope it doesn't take the rape of a judge's daughter or a lawmaker's son to get this remedied so that those who commit and conceal heinous crimes against kids face consequences, even if they were smart enough to hide the crimes or commit them in someone else's building.”
Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles represents the alleged victim of Fr. Tierney. St. Louis attorney Ken Chackes represented the alleged victim of Fr. Cooper.
Fr. Tierney is alive. Fr. Cooper is deceased. More info on both can be found at BishopAccountability.org
(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 25 years and have more than 15,000 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)