Sunday, July 19, 2009

Priest's Conviction Upheld Over Challenge To Testimony Regarding Religion

State v. Bussmann, (MN Ct. App., July 14, 2009), was an appeal after a retrial of Catholic priest John Joseph Bussmann on a charge of criminal sexual conduct with a woman he employed as director of youth ministries. In 2007 the Minnesota Supreme Court, in a fragmented decision, concluded that Bussmann's earlier conviction under the clergy criminal sexual conduct statute, based on the admission of extensive evidence concerning religious doctrine and church policies and practices, violated the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.) Here the Court of Appeals upheld the second conviction, finding:
Unlike the first trial, on retrial there was no testimony regarding Catholic Church doctrine, the power that priests have traditionally had over parishioners, or internal church procedures regarding allegations of abuse. Because the charging statute requires proof of certain elements that directly touch and concern religious practices, it is impossible to prove the charged offense without some religion-related testimony. After reviewing the limited religion-related testimony from Father McDonough, we are satisfied that the district court carefully adhered to the Bussmann I admonitions and admitted only such religion-related testimony as was necessary for the state to prove the charged offense. We conclude that the religion-related testimony did not excessively entangle church doctrine with civil law.