Thursday, July 13, 2017

Priest's Defamation Suit Against Diocese Survives Ecclesiastical Abstention Claim

According to the Palm Beach Post, in a July 11 four-page opinion a Florida state trial court judge refused to dismiss a defamation suit brought by Catholic priest Rev. John Gallagher against his former diocese.  In response to Gallagher's claim that the diocese attempted to cover up sexual abuse by a visiting priest, the diocese posted responses on its website and in a letter read at all masses in the diocese.  The diocese (which contends that it reported the abuse to law enforcement authorities immediately) called Gallagher a liar who needed professional assistance.  The court held that the defamation claim "can be assessed using neutral principles of law and without resolving a church controversy."  It is expected that the diocese will appeal, arguing that the dispute involves church discipline and internal policies for handling complaints. (See prior related posting.)