Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Ministerial Exception" Doctrine Leads To Denial of Pension Claim By Removed Priest

In In re Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, (DE Bkrptcy., July 16, 2014), the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware applied the "ministerial exception" doctrine to sustain the Wilmington Diocese's objection to a pension claim filed in the Diocese's reorganization by a priest who has been credibly charged with sexual abuse. The priest, Kenneth Martin, was one of nine priests removed by the bishop from ministerial duties for substantiated claims of abuse against minors. Martin then filed a Canon Law action before the Vatican to obtain a pension and sustenance. The bankruptcy court however rejected Martin's claim for payment, saying in part:
Martin emphasizes that his claim for pension and sustenance is premised upon an anticipated ruling in a Canonical action which will resolve his proper allotted remuneration and overall standing within the Diocese. Yet while the Debtor may be under a separate Canonical obligation to pay sustenance, the Court is barred, by the ministerial exception, from forcing Martin's reinstatement into ministry, or awarding any form of relief that would come at the Debtor's expense on account of his removal.
(See prior related posting.)